Technology in the home is a hot topic that goes a long way back.
In some ways, a house itself is an implement that uses the technology of the day to shelter us, keep us safe, warm, private and protected, whether it is through putting together sticks, mud, bricks, steel, glass or today’s hi-tech composites.
Technology is developed to essentially make our lives better and easier, and to relieve the drudgery and time-consuming nature of mundane day to day tasks. We invented machines to wash our clothes, to wash our dishes, to reheat our food quickly, to keep us warm.
Labour-saving devices free up our time and allow us to indulge and do what we really want. Over the years this technological revolution has sped up and now we are moving from mechanical devices to electronic devices to make our lives easier.
Remotes for the television have been with us a long time, but now our remotes are migrating to our mobile phones, for everything from setting up the optimum temperature in your room to selecting what music you would like to listen to and much, much more.
There is becoming less and less of a reason to get off the couch. The whole world is within reach and control without barely having to move.
Then we have the revolution of the internet of things. More and more of our appliances, gadgets and toys are internet connected.
Fridges can know what is inside them, what is getting low and even remotely order stock that will be delivered to your home before you can even realise that it was going to run out. Even things like toasters can be connected.
Why you might ask? ‘Just because we can’, some may answer. Arguments state that the internet of things supposedly makes our lives better, easier and stress free – like all the technological labour-saving devices of old.
Voice activation is one of the newest trends in home automation. Once again from our sofa we can bark out commands and our environment responds. Dim the lights, increase the volume, faster massage from our chair, drop the blinds, select a movie to watch…
Then there are sensors that are becoming more and more embedded into our buildings and lives. These sensors; from the common temperature sensors we all know; are expanding into all fields.
Some buildings now have sensors embedded in key locations to record and analyse structural stresses. No need to hire an engineer to check your house after a quake, just download the sensor information into an appropriate programme and it could tell you immediately the health of your house.
All this is wondrous and exciting. Some houses now have their own server rooms not too dissimilar to a commercial building with racks of computer equipment working behind the scenes to keep it all running seamlessly.
Like all new toys and gadgets this latest technology is addictive and fun. You wonder how you lived without it before.
It is becoming more and more ubiquitous and unavoidable as well. So many purchases now ask you to log in, register, get updates and stay connected.
Where is all this leading us?
With virtual reality and augmented reality becoming more common for illustrating designs, will this morph into our houses? Will a version of the holodeck from Star Trek actually become a reality and replace our televisions where we can dial up any full 360° immersive environment we want? Some commentators think it is not far away.
Will we need houses with windows then, if we can recreate anything we want inside?
Will architecture become more and more a simple box which enables incredible highly realistic virtual realties to be created and other technologies designed to pamper us? Will sensors and artificial intelligence learning get to such a level that all our needs and wants can be anticipated and met before we even realise we have them? What will happen to our privacy if everything is embedded with sensors connected to the internet? And will it matter?
Today’s generations, brought up on the transparency of Facebook, Instagram and the like are possibly less concerned with privacy than earlier generations. Will the future become a world of surveillance and data collecting that overwhelms our sense of individuality? Is it already here? Should we be concerned? Already stories are emerging of supposedly private devices being monitored remotely through the web.
Your own house should be your most private place. A refuge from the rest of the world where you can truly be yourself without the pressures and expectations of others.
Labour-saving technologies were devised originally to free people up and allow them time to enjoy doing what they truly wanted in private if necessary.
Is it a risk that technology has now moved on so far that it erodes this privacy and reduces our freedom counteracting its original aims. Only time will tell.
The genie is out of the bottle though; no putting it back. Technological advancements are here to stay. We can only be vigilant and remember technology is here to help and serve us, improve our lives and give us the freedom to live and be ourselves.
Article provided by Jasper van der Lingen, director at Shepherd and Rout architects.