Last week, I spoke with my Mum on the telephone and she criticised my choice to install the Google Nest Mini and Philips Hue in my home. According to her, it encourages laziness and a lack of exercise. While I can understand her concerns, I have to disagree. Today I’d like to discuss why technology is actually helping us improve our lives.
For me, installing Google has, for the most part, made me more effective at running the home. When Google actually decides to listen to me, we do get quite a lot of stuff done together. Just this morning, for example, I asked Google to turn the kitchen light off while I removed some postage labels from my storage coffee table, where I’d stashed them away having spotted them only moments before a guest arrived. Does that make me lazy? I disagree, I think it makes me more efficient. I was solving one issue, while Google was solving another. I still had to walk to the cupboard and get tape and then walk across the room to get scissors, so I still got some exercise, I just didn’t need to visit every corner of my living room, thanks to Google.
To me, she’s more like a PA to help me out, not some AI robot that is taking my life over.
In another example, on Saturday, I asked Google to turn the kitchen light on while I put laundry into the pop-up hamper to take it through for washing. Sure enough, Google jumped into life and was happy to help out. By the time I’d loaded up the hamper, I could walk through to the kitchen and see exactly where I was going, and what I was doing. It meant I didn’t need to put the laundry basket down to be able to turn the kitchen light on, which probably would have hurt my already dodgy back.
In a third and final example, I had a mug of tea in one hand, and a couple of digestive biscuits and my mail in the other. How would I have flipped, clapped or waved at a light switch if my hands were full? Luckily, I could use my voice.
Before we had the likes of Google Home and Amazon’s Alexa, we had motion sensors and clappers. According to research (which, admittedly, I asked Google to do for me while I noted down the answers), the clap-activated light was developed in 1996, and the motion sensor before that, in 1950.
What would I have had to do to get those figures without Google? Put down my pen, create a tab, type in my search and tap enter. Read and find the relevant information, write it down, and repeat the process again. Google did all of the work for me in the time that it took me to write down “clapper” and “motion sensor”.
I understand why some people fear modern technology. Aside the common fear that it might develop form of apathy and kill us all with impunity, there is the fear that we may all become lazy and redundant.
Disney’s Wall-E comes to mind.
When we think about machinery doing everything for us, we have the tendency to jump to and think about technology doing absolutely everything for us, like life-support machines. Although those machines are absolutely marvellous pieces of engineering which can (and often do) save lives, they aren’t something that we should take for granted and should only be used by those with genuine need.
We need balance.
On Saturday, after my conversation with my mother, I thought about idea of machinery replacing even the most mundane jobs. The first thought came when I went out to check my mailbox and I imagined a big, green Deliveroo robot (it looked nothing like the ones Deliveroo actually use, mind you) trundling around the corner. That thought made me shudder. My second thought was when I was loading up the laundry and I imagined having a metal chute hoover up my laundry from the basket, out of the bedroom door, across the lounge ceiling and down into the washing machine. It would need either some sort of suction on one end and a blower (to force the laundry along) on the other, or several conveyor belts. It would be noisy and probably need additional ways and means to cut out the excessive noise, and not to mention support brackets, power units and space. My home would become a series of pipes, wires and motors, which is unattractive and would occupy lots of my already small living space.
So isn’t it better if I just do the laundry myself, then?
For me, the idea of ordering fast food every night is nothing short of ridiculous. I love cooking and only resort to fast food if I’m either poorly planned or stuck for time (it happens occasionally!). Fast food is nearly always full of sugar, salt and oil and lacking in anything nutritious. The only way I could get my groceries delivered by robot is if Tesco invests in driverless vans. An idea perhaps, but it wouldn’t decrease my workload. Even if Tesco went driverless, they’d still need staff to fix technical issues when they arise, so it wouldn’t really be saving anyone from any work. Unless they have some automated robotic arm which can wire all up through my home and put my groceries away for me… I digress. We still need people!
Even though technology has allowed us to simplify our lives, it is still a long, long way from replacing us completely. Technology can do some things for us and help us with others, but it is still limited and often still requires human input. Even if Google turns off my lights, I still have to draw the curtains and close the door. Even if the Da Vinci robot can perform highly detailed surgery via a much smaller incision, it still requires a surgeon at a control station to operate it. Technology is helping us with our lives, it’s not replacing us.
I want you to consider something else that we have lived with for a long time, something that we have even lived with for many years and maybe even use ourselves: Mobility aids.
I’m not just talking about mobility scooters in this case, I’m including bath stools, adapted cutlery, grabbers and shoe horns. How many of us use them, and benefit from them everyday?
How much would you struggle to get on with your day without them? How much time would be wasted struggling to do even the most banal tasks?
This is exactly what my Google Nest has become for me, something of a lifeline.
Before I allowed Google Nest into my home, I was overwhelmed, I was inundated and constantly stressed. I had dishes to clean, tea to make, a dog to walk, lists to make, blog posts to write, a bed to make and myself to maintain. If I wanted information, I had to search for it, if I wanted to turn a light on or off, I had to get up and do it, if I wanted to listen to music, I had to find my earphones and stick them in.
Now, thanks to Google (and my handy dandy compact dishwasher) I am a lot more efficient with my time. Instead of standing at the sink and scrubbing, I can load up the dishes, start off the sequence and get on with cleaning the sides. Instead of having 4 tabs open on my computer, which used to cause me feelings of overwhelm, I can ask Google to find for me the information that I need. I can set alarms, listen to the news, play my tunes and have to do lists read off to me, all thanks to my Google Mini. Being able to operate the lights with my voice is just an added benefit that saves a bit of time throughout my day.
It’s understandable to fear what is new, but we need to look at the ways that it can help us. Instead of being inundated with chores, flipping on and off light switches and reading information that is of no use to me, I am able to streamline my life, get the boring stuff done faster and make more time to do the things that really matter to me, like taking better care of myself and spending more time with my family.
How has technology helped you with everyday living? Let me know in the comments!