You can own a smart house, but you cannot make a homeowner smart. I know from first-hand experience. You see, I live in a smart house. “Live” is perhaps an inaccurate description. “Trapped” is a better word.
You see, I have a techno-wise son and an enabling husband, who enthusiastically says “yes” to every new electronic device “The Kid” wants to install and program into our house.
My friends think I’m lucky to have The Kid on-call 24/7 to solve my computer needs, but I know the ugly truth: He and my husband are engaging in a modern form of gaslighting, ostensibly working to modernize the house in ways I don’t—and will never—understand. It’s driving me crazy and that’s their real goal.
I’M NO INGRID BERGMAN, BUT …
You do remember the 1944 movie Gas Light starring Ingrid Bergman and Charles Boyer, yes? It’s the story of a husband who works to convince his wife that she is insane by altering small details of their home. The term “gaslighting” describes efforts to manipulate someone.
As it stands right now, I cannot go downstairs after dark. Once the sun sets, the TV room, laundry room, the hallway, and the linen closet are shrouded in darkness. The lights there are controlled digitally. I’m told there’s a motion sensor, but that’s a lie. I’ve walked. I’ve stomped, leaped, and skipped. I’ve flapped my arms like a bird. And I’ve made obscene gestures, lots of them. Nothing works. No matter what I do, utter darkness.
This techno-loss-of-control (and sanity) began gradually. It started a few years back with a new computer purchase. The Kid set the computer up, installing various software applications and such. He then left for college. I did not realize it at the time, but a pathetic pattern of dependency had started.
One night, working late from home, a deadline looming, the computer froze. In a panic, I called The Kid. “No problem,” he assured me. “I can help.”
In seconds, without me touching anything, the arrow on my computer screen began moving. Surging to life, letters and words began to appear, all typed by the The Kid, miles and states away.
Sure, I was saved, but at what price? Loss of pride? Loss of parental control? Loss of privacy? All gone in the click of a mouse!
THAT WAS JUST THE BEGINNING
At work, I looked cool. I knew computer tricks that my hipster Millennial office mates didn’t. Of course, I did. I had an 18-year-old in my life. They, at 25 or 30, were out of touch with the true computer cognoscenti.
But techno-upgrades didn’t end with the computer. Soon my music habits were attacked. The Kid cajoled me into downloading all my CDs onto my iPhone. He next applied peer-pressure, coercing me to scan my photos onto my iPad. “Come on,” he wheedled. “All the other parents are doing it.”
Soon I was rocking out to Broadway show tunes through icy white Sonos speakers stylishly, but unobtrusively arrayed throughout the house. I admit it. I fell in love with Sonos. No more cumbersome speakers, no more unsightly wires, no piles of CDs accumulating dust everywhere. Just music at my fingertips.
The Kid then attacked my attachment to DVDs. The techno-demon had already Blue-rayed-ed our VCR and DVD players out the door. Now he led us down a promiscuous path of leaping into the arms of every new hot electro-gadget that sauntered down the Internet shopping aisle—Tivo, Sony something or other, Bravia, Google Home Mini with ChromeCast … You name it, we bought and installed it.
And it wasn’t just the constant fickle, costly casting aside of devices that troubled me. The Kid also led the household through a bewildering head-spinning, finger-pressing exploration of streaming services—Netflix, Hulu, Fire TV, Amazon Prime. Clearly, I was past my prime when it came to figuring all this out. Now we’ve got two Fire Sticks, which work with something called Echo. The only echo I hear is my increasingly desperate voice.
“Hello. Hello. Can anybody or anything hear me? Please turn the damn TV on? I just want to watch the news.
SMART HOUSE OUTSMARTS ME
Today I have Alexa in the living room. A Google something-or-other in the kitchen and both in the bedroom. Devices blink and talk to me—and each other—at random intervals all day and night. I cannot get any sleep from the noise and flashing white and green light show.
I’m not the only one under siege. Now that Alexa’s entered the picture, my music listening pleasure is imperiled. Jealous of my Sonos speakers, Alexa arbitrarily cuts the music off. So, at random intervals, I get “Bye, Bye Miss American Pie.” Other times Alexa decides it’s just bye, bye and the music dies.
With all these voice-activated devices, my daughter worries that the NSA is listening. I worry that my son is listening and watching. I dare not pick my nose except hunkered deep down under the covers.
IN THE DARK, LITERALLY AND FIGURATIVELY
Recently the techno-spy, I mean The Kid, decided to install smart lightbulbs throughout the rest of our already over-the-top smart house. No more motion-sensors. Now they’re on timers, but based on what time zone I cannot fathom. Outer Mongolia?
Allegedly you can activate the lights by voice command, but that would mean knowing the names assigned to each of them. Hell, I cannot always keep straight the names of my kids and siblings. How can I remember the names of lightbulbs? No pun intended, but whose bright idea was this? Oh, I know … The Kid’s.
And I cannot even manually override the sensors and use the light switches. They’re covered with plastic covers, so the computer-programmed controls don’t get thrown off. Instead I’m the one thrown off and throwing tantrums … in the dark.
Like I said, it’s not just The Kid (and the machines) who are out to get me. My energy-efficient zealot of a spouse, good ‘ole Handsome Hubby (HH), is in on the plot. Like I said, he enthusiastically endorses all these so-called smart house improvements.
HH recently placed a monitor on the washer and dryer to monitor energy usage. Frankly, I think he’s monitoring my energy usage and activities. Does he doubt me when I say I’m tired from a day of cleaning and doing laundry? Does he check to see exactly how many loads of laundry I actually did? Maybe I’m being paranoid.
THE FUTURE LOOKS BLEAK
And that’s not all. HH and The Kid have started talking about the fancy new electric cars on the market. They’re particularly excited about all the shiny touch screen panels and digital controls.
Yeah, they’re excited. I’m terrified. If we buy a smart car, I’m doomed to be a shut-in. Soon I’ll be the subject of jokes like:
How many housewives does it take to screw in a lightbulb?
None. They’re already so screwed by technology.
They’ll just sit in the dark and weep …
and wonder why and how their families and technology have outsmarted them with so many superfluous devices.