Deep Dive: Technology

Welcome to one of the lowest-tech brand new homes you're likely see. About the most sophisticated aspect of it will be the heat pump system, but even this isn't all that special, and it's based on relatively old technology.

My choice to go low-tech is not because I'm a technophobe or a Neo-Luddite; I've actually been a borderline technogeek from my earliest years. I'd always had bleeding-edge audio-visual systems (I was an early adopter of Betamax, MiniDisc and Videodisc), top-drawer digital photographic gear, high-end PCs, and so on. Professionally, I've been involved in desktop publishing, computer animation, audio/video production and post-production, IT systems management, software development, and many other techie things. Plus, I'm generally very science- and technology-oriented.

That said, I'm also a major proponent of the KISS Principle, and as such I'm adamantly opposed to making things more complicated than they need to be. Unfortunately, with the virus-like spread of ever-cheaper microprocessors and related tech, not to mention altogether too many fad-driven tech trends, unnecessary complexity is growing almost exponentially. Entirely too many products are emerging that nobody asked for; tech developers now do many things because they can and because it's profitable or, worse, even fashionable, not because they should or even need to.

And so, for my house I've consciously and deliberately gone very low-tech. Here are some highlights (lowlights?) and the reasons for my choices:

No cable. I don't watch television—as in broadcast or cable-distributed commercial programming. While I do have a voracious appetite for film, and enjoy a select few television series (which I purchase on disc), I saw no need for a cable connection. And cell phones have finally become robust enough to make land lines obsolete, so the only wires entering the house carry 200 amps of electricity.

No broadband. No cable also means no hardwired broadband internet access. I don't do all that much online as it is, and I don't bother with streaming. For the limited amount I do online, I have a hotspot tied to my cell phone account; it's proven to be perfectly adequate for my needs, and costs no more than cable-based broadband, even with unlimited data. It also means having to deal with only one big, greedy corporation instead of two or more.

No dish. See "no cable." Besides, being surrounded by trees, a line-of-sight shot at a satellite is out of the question.

No wiring. Other than electricity and a doorbell, the house is not wired for anything. No cable, no Cat-6, no inter-room audio/video feeds, no nothing. No want, no need.

No smart home devices. I tend to regard anything branded "smart" as usually just the opposite. Consequently my home will be 100% "dumb," as I have absolutely zero interest in or need for any "smart" devices, many of which are utterly absurd. And what happens when tech devices become obsolete, as they inevitably do, and at an increasing rate? Not to mention that the Internet of Things is seriously frightening: hackers are aggressively multiplying, and I refuse to put my privacy and security at risk just for the sake of being able to open or close my garage door while I'm away. For one thing, I'm almost never away. For another, I do not—and never will—own a smart phone.* Then there are all of the horror stories about people losing control of their smart devices because of bugs or Internet service interruptions. How embarrassing is it when you can't turn your lights on and off while standing in the same room? Hey Google, go screw yourself.

Not even a "learning" thermostat. It's just me and my cats, at home 99% of the time. A Nest or other "smart" thermostat is overkill; a simple, "old-fashioned" electronic setback timer is more than adequate.

*If you're tempted to say, "don't knock what you haven't tried," don't bother. Some time back I bought a top-of-the-line smart phone... and returned it a week later. I couldn't stand it. Why? I used to write software for a living, and I specialized in developing user-friendly interfaces and performing usability studies. Today's software developers create what they want, not what users need; visual style trumps usability, and the rush to market results in bug-ridden apps that are a pain to use. Even my "dumb" phone is prone to locking up for no good reason. There's something to be said for the days of switches and relays.


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