May 26, 2015
I’ve been thinking a lot about the Internet of Things (IOT) lately, and as often happens, that got me thinking about something else. Personally I’m very excited about our increasing ability to keep track of virtually everything—not having to help look for my wife’s car keys will probably add an extra 30 minutes of productivity to my work week—but I’m beginning to wonder about the level of familiarity that technology has with us. Right now the majority of technological interactions—other than my car’s “engine service” light—are initiated by us, but increasingly the ratio of that dynamic is changing. As the applications that will enable things like our dishwashers to tell us that we forgot to press the “start” button increasingly become a reality how do we want them to address us? In other words, while technology may be our friend, do we want it to be our buddy?
Now some of you have probably already used my premise to start worrying about things going all Skynet out there, and to you I say, “Get a grip.” Despite what Hollywood projects onto movie screens, I don’t think being able to use an app to find your missing shoe is the gateway to a world where your cyborg master is telling you to go wash its car. What I’m talking about is more on the level above the relationship that many of us have with interfaces like Siri.
I’m not a big fan of Siri. She calls me “O’ Wise One”. It’s a show of deference and respect that I think most of us feel is a bit unnerving when interacting with animatronic voices. We, and they, know who’s in charge, and I think that this attempted ego boost is a bit pedantic when all we want to do is know how to spell ‘bureaucrat.’ In these situations, our high tech compadre always aims to please, speaks only when spoken to and otherwise leaves us alone. My marketing guy says that if his ex-wife had been more like that he would probably still be married to her. Since it’s always good to be prepared, I think it’s time for all of us to start thinking about how these conversations should go when it’s our device that decides it wants to chat.
As much as people say that traditional mores’ and manners are being changed by technology, I don’t think that has to be the case when our devices wish to speak with us. Personally, I think formality should be the rule. In a way, it’s kind of like when you first met your in-laws. If you’re like most of us, you didn’t jump right in and refer to them as “Bud” and “Marge”. You called them “Mr. and Mrs. Schulenberg”, and that’s how I’d like my refrigerator to address me when it wants to alert me that we’re running a little low on the Diet Coke. “Mr. Crosby”, or even just “Sir” will do just fine—at least until we get to know each other a little better. I don’t know about you but I just think it’s a little presumptuous when a major appliance calls you by your first name.
Naturally, all relationships evolve and I would expect that our interactions with our electronic devices to follow similar paths. After a few summers of discussing how “we need more propane” or a battery for the electronic starter, I certainly wouldn’t be surprised to find myself on a first name basis with my gas grill. After all, even though we don’t sit down and talk sports or anything, it’s obvious that he only has my best interests at heart and that’s the sort of foundation that relationships of mutual respect are forged on. Personally, I’ve always believed that we should respect professionalism wherever we find it, and a Weber that has consistently risen to the occasion in support of multiple Crosby pool parties and family meals has earned the right to call me “Chris”.
Fortunately, for many of us, the majority of these device-initiated communications are still on the horizon so there is time to think about things like how we would like to be addressed. My mother always said, that you treat people how you’d like to be treated. Good advice I’d say. In the near future, it’s probably going to apply to your washing machine as well.