How I Learned to Start Worrying and Mistrust My Refrigerator

And so I’m reading an article this morning which basically says that one day my fridge is going to kill me.

Oh, it didn’t say that in so many words. It was just referring to the ‘Web of Things’, where domestic appliances will be networked and therefore our fridges will be able to command us to pick up a bottle of milk when we’re driving past the supermarket. Or we’ll be able to read our emails when looking into a bathroom mirror.

Now, call me a Luddite, but this fills me with dread, mainly for two reasons. The first is geek inspired and insanely paranoid, but I can’t help it. It feels like what would happen if major high street retailers got taken over by Skynet. The technopocalypse won’t start when the network sends battle robots after us all, it’ll be more insidious than that. The appliances will wait until we’re totally dependent on them, then start ignoring the sell-by dates on our food, thus wiping us out through e-coli.

Think I’m crazy? It starts with a fridge telling me to get milk. It goes on to the fridge telling my self-driving car to go to the supermarket without asking me. It ends with the self-driving car taking me to the Soylent Green factory. Don’t say I didn’t warn you!

That’s the irrational side of things. More realistically, there’s a concern that we’re already too networked. The concept of time off, of vacations from work, heck, the concept of Sabbath, become compromised when we can be contacted wherever we are – phone calls, text messages, emails, everything’s pushed through to a smart phone that we carry with us all the time. We’re so used to being connected that we never switch off – who hasn’t woken up at 4am and had a sneaky look at their emails before falling asleep again?

Then there’s surveillance culture. We keep getting told that the authorities ‘need’ greater access to our emails and social media – what happens when they want greater access to the things we listen to on the radio, or what’s in our kitchen cupboards? While this sounds only marginally less paranoid than Robogeddon, I guarantee that, should this network world come about to this extent, some politician will suggest legislation to monitor our purchases. The excuse will be terrorism.

Terrorism? Yep. Because doesn’t all this raise geo-political issues? If all this high-tech genius requires Rare Earth Elements, and if those elements are often found in places that either have worrying approaches to human rights (China) or are unstable (Afghanistan), what happens when production of these becomes something worth fighting over? Maybe I’m just cynical because of all the “this-war-is-about-freedom-no-it’s-about-oil” rhetoric of the last few decades, but it’s enough to get me twitchy.

Heck, what am I saying? It won’t be the terrorists that get us, it’ll be the spam. I bet that intrusive leviathan Facebook is already trying to figure out how to update our timelines based on things our white goods are saying. “Matt is driving to church.” “Matt is buying milk.” “Matt is line-dancing.” Zuckerberg’s minions will know all and see all.

Now, there’s someone out there saying that if I haven’t got anything to hide then I’ve nothing to fear. Well, I do have something to hide. I don’t give out my cell phone number to telemarketers. I tick the little boxes that tell companies not to send me junk mail. I don’t have to tell people who I vote for or how much money is in my current account. Corporations already have too much data on us, but when they know exactly what’s in my fridge, or when they know my route to work, that’s too much. They might already know this stuff, but nagging fridges will only make it worse.

It could also kill social media. Are you prepared for a hundred status updates a day telling you every time your friends are buying socks. If a friend gets engaged, sure, I want to know about it. I don’t, however, care if my friend is making toast. But his toaster will, oh yes, because making toast is the whole purpose of its existence, and we’re going to give it a voice, we’re going to enable a toaster to hijack our Twitter feed to tell the world that it’s out-and-proud and is making toast!!! Oh brave new world in which we live, in which kettles have more of a voice than some people.

And then you’ll be watching TV, and all the adverts will be tailored to you, because there’s a chip in there telling everyone your viewing habits and streaming commercials based on the data it’s sucking up. I mean, sure, I’ll fast-forward through them like I always do, but I’ll know they’re there. And they’ll annoy me.

And then my washing machine will eat me.

But at least you’ll know, because it’ll confess to it on Facebook.


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