Hacking Isn’t The Only Reason


I attended the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in 2011. It’s the world’s largest trade show, with hundreds of new products introduced each year. What I saw were booths stuffed with future landfill: docks, dashboard mounts, adapters, robotic vacuum cleaners, 3D TVs. One afternoon, I attended a panel discussion about the rapidly approaching “connected home,” referred to nowadays as the Internet of Things. The panelists promised that household devices of all kinds would soon be connected to one another and to the internet, thereby transforming the average American home into a futuristic fortress of hyperefficiency.


The appliances in my mother’s kitchen weren’t smart, but they lasted forever. If one of them broke, a repairman came to our house and fixed it. The last time a repairman came to my house, he told me that he’d had to get a full-time weekday job at Home Depot because nowadays, when appliances break, most people just buy new ones. And they do break. Now, the most vulnerable parts of modern appliances are usually the ones containing computer chips. My wife and I learned that when we fried the brains of a pair of expensive side-by-side convection ovens by self-cleaning them simultaneously. The repairman’s advice, after pronouncing the circuit boards too costly to replace: Buy the dumbest appliances you can find.

I’ve owned toaster-ovens for forty years. In that time, I’ve never bought one new; they’re always been picked out of the trash. Sure, they needed some attention (or a really good cleaning), but after that they worked just fine. I even have thrown a few of them out when moving, because I knew that there would be another one in my new locale for me to salvage. I’ve never been wrong about that either.

Then we have the issue of “ownership”. It’s bad enough that folks are leasing their homes and properties from the Government. Think I’m wrong? Try not paying your property taxes and see what happens. There are manufacturers, John Deere comes to mind, who seek to prohibit you from fixing your lawn tractor, claiming that the electronic guts are somehow proprietary. And of course, those of us who mess with computers are familiar with those little tags taped over a seam on a component that warns “warranty void if seal is broken”. No, that’s never stopped me either. Up the Man!

Given the choice between convenience and independence, I’ll take the dumb appliance each and every time. You should, too. This was never mentioned in the Jetsons or in Star Trek by the way. Then again, they all told us that we’d have flying cars, too. Grrr.

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