Should a home be smart?

Should a home be smart?

An issue that keeps coming back when the development and implementation of IoT is discussed is that of the ‘Smart Home’; recently accompanied by a – sometimes semantic – discussion about the difference between a smart home and an intelligent home. Since this is, next to food for thought, also something of a contradiction I will contemplate on this a little further. One of my favourite poetic lines is one written in 1944 by the French surrealistic poet Paul Eluard: “When the peaks of our sky come together, my house will have a roof”. This, to me, reflects the ontology of our home: our current house has an address, our home can be abstract, maybe even somewhere else. It is our way of building houses that creates the dichotomy of public and private space: we build a house and – intend to – create a home there, without realising ourselves why and how we ‘dwell’ where we do.

In my opinion home, as an intimate space, basically has little to do with technology; home is about other values – see e.g. Gaston Bachelard’s ‘Poetics of Space’ – which does not imply that technology cannot play a role of enhancing values. But as long as we consider ‘technology’ in our homes as something alien, we inhabit an artificial, build environment in which technology is not considered – let alone experienced – an integrated part.

The term ‘home automation’ is again something of a contradiction; what is there in our home that we cannot do ourselves and would wish to be automated? To which question is home-automation an answer? We consider the fact that we can turn a switch and have a light not as something primarily technological; the moment however that we – in the Netherlands anyway – discuss e.g. smart metering we dismiss a pragmatic ‘technology’ as intrusive, as an attack on our privacy where a proper insight in our use of electricity might be appropriate . We tend to reject because we feel that our sense of privacy is threatened.

Our home can be considered a basic human value; we need – besides shelter – some kind of intimate space as a point of departure for entering public space. In a ‘private’ space we experience freedom which to me implies that we should have control over that space, i.e. over its design, shape, appearance and use. The current paradox is the fact that, as said above, home basically has little to do with technology while on the other hand technology plays an increasingly significant role in designing, realising and maintaining our homes. Now that technologies increasingly permeate this environment we should no longer talk of ‘home automation’ since this implies that we dismiss our control. In a more complex world – in which the IoT plays an increasingly significant role – we need to acknowledge that technology can have an increasingly important role there which does not come to an end when a building is ‘finished’. We need to regain control over environment, building and object which become/are entangled; our environment as a whole will/has become an interface. We move from function to meaning, beyond comfort only. In the words of Pallasmaa: “Architecture is the art of reconciliation between ourselves and the world, and this mediation takes place through the senses”. (Pallasmaa, the Eyes of the Skin, 2005, p.72) Providing objects – things – with an ‘identity’ and adding them to our hybrid environment/intimate space should add to experience; again, not comfort only. Therefore: should a home be smart? Most of all it should resemble our sense of being a part of our world and lived space, be it in the intimate or public.

this article was published on Sept. 30th.2013 on IoT-World