From counter-top tortilla makers to fridges you can tweet from, so-called “smart” appliances seem to be getting smarter.
But over at Fast Co. Design, writer Mark Wilson posits that the gadgets in our lives are exhibiting the wrong kind of smart — exemplified by his frustrating test drive of the June, “the intelligent convection oven.”
The June boasts an in-oven camera, temperature probe, app connectivity to your phone, and is WiFi capable. It strives to take the guesswork out of cooking by fully automating the whole process. From pre-heating with a button on your touchscreen, to pinging your device when your baked salmon is ready, the June takes control of every aspect of the home cooking experience. This is not good, says Wilson, as it treats the learning and practice of a fundamental life skill (or fun hobby!) as yet another tiresome task that we’re better off handing over to a machine. And to top it all off, this problematic philosophical worldview is packaged in a clunky, buggy shell.
“[T]he June’s fussy interface is archetypal Silicon Valley solutionism. Most kitchen appliances are literally one button from their intended function. […] The objects are simple, because the knowledge to use them correctly lives in the user. […] The June attempts to eliminate what you have to know, by adding prompts and options and UI feedback. Slide in a piece of bread to make toast. Would you like your toast extra light, light, medium, or dark? Then you get an instruction: ‘Toast bread on middle rack.’ But where there once was just an on button, you now get a blur of uncertainty: How much am I in control? How much can I expect from the oven? I once sat watching the screen for two minutes, confused as to why my toast wasn’t being made. Little did I realize, there’s a checkmark I had to press — the computer equivalent of ‘Are you sure you want to delete these photos?’— before browning some bread.”
Wilson’s “buyer beware” about letting the June into our lives can be read as a larger, more ominous warning, about holding onto our human intelligence and autonomy in the face of technological convenience. It’s interesting to consider how many of us are willing to surrender that, to devices from phones on up. What is your limit?