Out of touch with this world?

home automation

For the last couple of years I've been noticing a remarkable trend in Dutch society. It seems that people feel the need to "automate" their homes. As an engineer these gadgets have some appeal to me, but when prices exceed the usability I draw a line. Also, how safe is this?

Because I currently still have an office job I often (sometimes involuntarily) mingle with co-workers. I understand that my views and values often differ greatly from that of my colleagues, but lately I get the feeling I'm getting more and more out of touch with the world (or vice versa). It seems society is moving in a direction I have absolutely no interest in.

For instance. About a year ago I had a colleague who bought a smart doorbell. It enabled him to answer the doorbell even when he was not at home. The doorbell contains a little camera and a speaker/microphone. He can see the person at his front door and even talk to them by using an app on his phone. When a package is being delivered to his home he can tell the courier that he is not at home and kindly ask the courier to deliver the package to the neighbours. Sounds good. Well ... unless you personally need to sign for the package. Oh, and unless the neighbours also aren't at home. Seems to me that in this case this expensive doorbell is not very useful. I also wonder how easy it is to hack this doorbell. It connects to your router, but people often use the router's default factory password or no password at all. Imagine unauthorized people using the camera function of your doorbell. They can see your family members walk through the front door at any time. It's a fun gadget, but is it really worth the money? At the moment they go for €100 and up.

Update 2019-01-11: I just read that Amazon bought Ring about a year ago and that the company is very relaxed about security. They gave most of their employees access to their customers live camera feeds. This includes camera's facing the outside world as well as indoor camera's. So, strangers are watching. Better to get rid of this useless doorbell.

But this doorbell seems pretty harmless as opposed to the other home automation gadgets people think they need. People buy IP cameras so they can monitor who is in- or around their house when they are not home. They can log in to their cameras via the internet. However, these IP cameras are notoriously easy to break into. Anyone on the internet can than look through your camera. And would you really want to buy a Chinese made IP camera for your home?


Some people nowadays buy a Google home speaker (Amazon and Apple also offer similar products). Instead of using the remote control on your TV, you can just tell google to turn it on and show a certain channel or play a specific movie. This surprisingly cheap gadget does whatever you tell it too. Well ... most things. You know the limits.

Turn the lights on or off. Play "Ladybaby" hits on your stereo set. Look for appointments in your calendar. Google already knows a lot about you, so why not let it into your home and have it control all your electrical appliances as well? I once saw someone use Google Home to check which TV channel was on in his house while he was at work. Is this really a necessary feature that enriches your life? It felt more like he was spying on his own wife.

How about turning the heater on in the house when you're on your way home from work. You can do this manually or your mobile can send location data to your house and then the heater can detect that you're on your way home and turn itself on so it's nice and cosy when you walk through the door. If you can reach your appliances over the internet than someone else can as well. So make sure it is configured safely before use.

And these are just some of the products out there. Just search the internet for 'home automation' and you might be surprised about all the possibilities. You can automate almost everything in your home. When you're physically impaired some of these gadgets can really help you improve your comfort of living, but be aware of the security risks involved when using 'online' products. Of course, there are also many other products that don't require an active channel to the world wide web. However, the Dutch seem to be very interested in managing their homes when they are not there.

At the moment I'm (still) healthy enough to manually close the curtains and turn the heater on or off. I don't need to automate that. Or other things for that matter. I much rather keep the money and invest it for early financial independence. That's the real luxury! I really don't mind when people want to automate their homes, but I sense that they  don't understand why I don't want to do this. People already look at me weird for not having a dishwasher.

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