Current Trends by Natasha Sapp

As if the bigger issues weren’t enough, consumer data breaches everywhere we potentially use our credit and debit cards, hacking groups globally gaining social security numbers, health information usually to sell on a seedy black market, the prevalence of identity theft, the pure, unadulterated fact that your smartphone now needs anti-virus, spyware and malware software to avoid everything from hacking to spam and back again. The hardcore slap in the face you could be shelling out hundreds of dollars in repair funds on the latest i-product not for the all-important screen that virtually shattered when you dropped it trying to get it out of that oversized purse or ultra-thin pocket, but to have your phones operating system restored; thanks to their increasing web capability they all have one. Dido with the tablets that are now all the rage, on top of the laptop we own at home and the e-reader we use for traditional media, the passwords we have to create more and more of, advised to make them the definition of complicated and change them almost as often as your underwear. That 21st century reality you can hardly buy anything not housing a computer chip; surpassing your cars electronic brain, your toaster, your refrigerator and your coffeepots sophistication aimed at giving you that “perfect” piece of toast, adjusting for that Sunday morning bagel, auto starting your coffee shop specially cup of Joe to go with it, allowing ordering of commonly stocked household items when you use the last of the milk; from a lamp to a child’s toy, odds are, it holds some kind of computer. Drones have made headlines over the previous year usually due to nearly colliding with much larger commercial airplanes, businesspeople wanting to expand their use from snapping shots of real-estate to delivering your pizza, expressing your Amazon order within minutes; most recently what happens when ordinary persons get their hands on the expensive flying equipment, an almost certain epic fail. Forget that ours and our children’s constant web access has literally rewired their brains and retarded everyone’s social skills, making us all dumb and dumber because who could find something without GPS, who needs to remember the 7 digits of a phone number, let alone 4-5 of them, when we can place it in our phones, carry them almost everywhere, having almost our whole lives on our devices. Which is a problem for the distracted generation when they leave it in a cab, on a subway, the commuter train, the greyhound bus to grandmas; an ever increasing problem owing to people expected to be god’s gift to multi-tasking, over scheduled, over stressed, over worked and  utterly dependent on their gadgets. Smart homes and other electronically controlled machines we used to have to be present to turn on and off, program to record television or other things suddenly done remotely aren’t new; it’s a question of how far they are taking it. Selfie was a term coined in 2014 to mean a picture taken of oneself via smartphone or webcam shared on social media, either doing mundane tasks , stunts or in front of monuments, chronicling life events; like we wanted to give the me generation anymore reason to be self-absorbed and self-involved.

And now they want to make it all worse, the consumer electronics showcase kicked off 2 weeks ago in Las Vegas unveiling cutting edge, popular doodads potentially soon available for sale; highlights included advancements in the self-driving car along with electric models making inroads further into the gas market, 4 K TV’s, offering higher resolutions, touting more vibrant colors, richer blacks, added streaming capability in the same format on display at CES, curved  smartphones to name just a few of the things meant to bring out the tech geek in all of us, improve upon the tech innovations meant to make our lives easier, actually making it harder by forcing formats on us all for increased dollars of course. But outside the British prosthetic hand housing advanced sensors and a drastically cheaper price thanks to 3D printing, a few practical items, a pacifier equipped to take your baby’s temperature, it certainly was an internet of things, though not the interconnectedness between your house, your car, your garage and your sprinkler system they explained; rather things soon to fill junk drawers when people either lose interest or landed there when they bought it and couldn’t figure out how to operate it, novelty items for the tech addicted willing to go into debt to impress people they don’t even like advanced electronics style. The list of things we sincerely hope never catches on encompass 2 types of wearable, this year’s apparent theme, cameras; one a wearable drone looking something like a spidery wristwatch that can be activated, fly feet from you instead of being limited to your arm’s reach. Billed as perfect for that action shot; story behind the making more impressive than the device itself revealing a husband and team who created the concept in 6 days, winning a half million dollar prize from a tech giant, becoming the talk of the tech world according to ABC news. The other a wearable body camera able to snap pictures, capture video and do live streaming, the former already nicknamed the selfie drone; both obviously trying to one up the popular mounted GoPro camera. Exactly what we don’t need more ways and more reasons for people to post more info and more photos starring what else, themselves, more reasons for people to attempt dangerous behavior, stunts to post on Facebook that has been relegated to a huge TMI (too much information) space showing off everything from weight loss to over excited first time parents a little too enamored with their baby, pictures comprised of people doing the most ordinary things, showing off their cooking prowess, staples on YouTube. Even the news anchor calling it selfies to the nth degree; creating the illusion everyone, and everything they do, is of the utmost importance, everyone can be discovered, recognized, congratulated, gain attention for their talent in traditional venues art, music, cooking, amateur movie making, perhaps that odd collection, because the internet isn’t filled with enough boring minutia or things that would turn most people’s stomachs.  Relatedly Good Morning America recently did a segment on Pinterest fails demonstrating tips and tricks for recreating the perfect picture seen in the online cross between visual flea market, craigslist only with interests as opposed to items for sale, and hobby groups of every kind. These revolved around cooking how to get a tie dye cake baked in jars and so forth, featured, a blogger who writes extensively on the topic. One supposes they needed something to fill the 2 on air hours when they can’t get the hottest band, they run out of celebrities to parade in front of us and the news is too depressing. Again not that blogging is new, not that blogging doesn’t cover every conceivable topic and some we didn’t know were conceivable, but surprising is how lucrative it can be both in money made and exposure achieved for up and comings in writing, fashion, a host of industries it’s difficult to break into. We simply hope Pinterest fail lady isn’t making money off of something so…frivolous.

Other supposedly noteworthy, soon to be in homes across America, items tried by attendees were the beltie a self-adjusting belt changing when you eat or sit down, a coffeepot, see what was just noted about growing features, registering your poor night’s sleep able to brew a stronger cup of your morning favorite, motorized roller-skates designed to attach those moving sidewalks at airports to your feet; too bad they look like roller skates from the 1970’s. Plus isn’t that what the Segway was for, or the also booked mobility tool advertised as Segway without the handlebars. Not to mention it’s directly juxtaposed beside a host of wearable fitness bands, newest smart phone apps attracting the health obsessed in our culture interested in tracking how many steps they take in a day, how much, how far they run, monitoring heart rate, blood pressure counting calories, food journaling meant to help with weight loss now can, and usually does, involve an community on Facebook or others sites you can be accountable to, apps for that, all seeking to cause more health consciousness, get us up off our couches, up from our desks and actually moving, assist the already health minded in their efforts. While a new apparatus known as ring, a wearable control that can be hooked to phones, lights, TV, stereo volume, has potential to help persons with disabilities lacking the motor control to perform said tasks the way they always have been done, beyond being years from wide spread use, refined and fine-tuned, beyond it’s current or future limitations thus proving functional to aforementioned people its characterization as the ultimate lazy person’s remote unfortunately sums up the direction it will take, should it ever get off the ground. It was bad enough when 2 years ago there were prototypes for RFID chips embedded in socks connected to an app for the sole purpose of preventing those pesky lost socks under the couch, seemingly eaten by the dryer, being discussed beside a possible vest that would hug you every time someone liked something of yours on Facebook humiliation enough, shame to a nation often ridiculed for its peculiarities when yet another app to find your lost car keys was a hit at CES this year, but smart socks capable of recording information on running efficiency, gate, even tell you when it’s time to buy a new pair of sneakers?  Unmentioned by CES, more concerned with the cool factor of what people have managed to create, is those “smart socks” retail at about $200 a pair; in fact, a conveniently missing component of the electronics showcase were any prices on available variations of technologies presented, forget their upgrades, save the socks and the sleek revival of the Sony Walkman into a digital everything music device selling for a whopping 1,000 plus dollars. However prices on existing 4K televisions, a rip off racket of proclaimed amenities if you bought a digital television after 2009, range from roughly 1.5 thousand grouping smaller sizes to an eye popping $24,000 plus attached to 85 inch Sony advertised at Best Buy; embodying the concept sure it may look nice, be interesting but good luck getting anyone to afford it.

Returning to interconnectedness and what booth holders at CES termed the internet of things, connecting your house, your car, your garage and your sprinkler system was the real red flag amongst mostly silliness; fresh off the Sony Pictures hacking scandal, surprising is booth holders went ahead with trying to entice us bearing a litany of products to connect every appliance, major system in our homes to the internet, to our smartphone. Yes we knew this day was coming, many foresaw it when we could program our DVR from our phone or our work PC in case we forgot to do so before leaving home, had to work late, even before then when we could nanny cam our baby sitters and have the feed sent either directly to our computers or our phones, allowing us to check in on the little tykes during the day, regularly used today to check in on ageing, Alzheimer’s, dementia effected loved ones, when we could GPS our kids shoes, backpacks and track where they were using our devices. Control your thermostat, remote start your car, lock your car doors, arm your home security system sounds great, still there are significant drawbacks to all that connectivity, all those computer chips housed in virtually every item we own. Take the baby monitor, a long used device of the modern era ensuring parents can hear their infant child throughout their home while doing other chores, it began as little more than a walkie talkie set you place next to baby and you take the other one where you are allowing you to hear them.  Next came video versions allowing you to do things such as watch them sleep without chancing waking them in the process, the aforementioned nanny cam scenario; now they come with Wi-Fi, ability to be connected to your phone, tablet, home PC thus likewise able to be hacked to the horror of parents nationwide. Alerted to a problem when they heard strange voices coming from their daughter’s room, yelling disturbing things, including expletives, to their child, another alerted when viewing footage found a creepy man, intent on robbing the home, harassing their child seen on camera yelling “wake up baby,” both deciding to unplug believing their child is safer without it. Yet one more parent was subject to a passive intrusion when she saw her neighbor and his son on her baby monitor, both lower tech models apparently tuned to the same frequency; a somewhat common, though little known and understood occurrence for monitor buyers. Garage door openers and home security systems too have been hacked for years giving thieves, nosey neighbors, psychopaths an electronic birds-eye view into your home, the valuables you have, your family routine, making it that much easier to steal your hard earned items, when with cheap technology gotten at the local Radio Shack, they can go into the system as if they were you, with a few clicks turn it off, completely disable it giving them free reign. The biggest problem with connecting your home everything together, to your devices is it exactly how easy it is for someone to then hack it all particularly if you didn’t hide your Wi-Fi router, don’t create a password and long in for each individual thing and the devastation to be wrought when, not if, you are hacked. Connecting your home to a mobile device tablet, phone presents a significant risk if that phone, device should be lost, stolen; especially those high end, latest i-phone/pad models sought after by thieves for resale. Considering the sheer amount of personal data now housed within them, it’s astounding what a joke phone security is, what a challenge it is to get people to password protect their phone so random strangers can’t take it, riffle through it learning everything about you, where you bank, where you shop, where you live, where you work. A rash of deaths linked to smartphone theft prompted makers to install kill switches rendering the phone useless if lost or stolen, though not available on all phone varieties; demonstrating maybe we all need to at least somewhat unplug for the time being.


Speaking of the latest in home tech, the so called “smart home” was/is designed to be the dream traditional homes aren’t, never could come close to, reaching past tricked out with the latest, greatest technology going a step farther to solve many problems in standard homes from security to enhanced energy efficiency. Coordinating thermostats equipped with schedulers so you can choose how your heating and cooling systems function on different days, days you work, days you don’t, days the kids will be home after school vs. days the go to activities, no more worrying about did you turn off that stove or not, remember to switch off the coffee pot, you can check remotely, it will turn itself off, shades, lights, your toilet all controlled with your phone sounds great. We’ve all seen the commercial man and wife on a quiet cabin vacation, college age kids return home for items, man asked if they left the house in good shape, yes in the reply; using his phone man turns off a sink left running, lights left on, a TV left blaring, thermostat at room temp with no one home and an open garage door, locking the home while he was at it. Sure getting alerts to burglars while on vacation able to call police, recover your items, better yet, to have your house do it for you may seem ideal for frequent travelers, seasonal vacationers; never be locked out again, never have to worry about lost keys, broken keys, never have to pay a lock smith, never have to drive home in the middle of something because your kid misplaced the house key may sound like heaven, using a magnetic lock with code or thumb print reader instead. Until, again, with easily accessible tools sold at any electronics store across the country, the smartest homes find themselves hacked. Hackers able to turn on and off lights, engage, disengage security systems, unlock doors, steal from you with no physical proximity to you whatsoever. Routers and Wi-Fi remain some of the easiest technology today to hack, what all smart home automations run on; meaning once you have paid for the hardware decking out that tech home, you must spend even more on encryption, malware software and a firewall to keep it out of malicious hands. Illustrating why we might just be happier, safer and less targeted by thieves in our dumb homes for the foreseeable future. Not to be dismissed, perpetuating the idea that how you deal with irresponsible kids, teens, college students, absent minded individuals is to compensate for their failure with technologies to cover their butt instead of forcing them to remember to lock the door, training them and yourself to shut off lights and TV’s when you leave a room, we really need an app to be sure kids flush toilets or hubby puts the seat down? Personally I would settle for smarter placement of light switches, homes with enough outlets to accommodate the amount of electronics currently in them as opposed to 1940 building codes, light bulbs without mercury, mandatory washer and dryer hook ups in every apartment and a drastic increase in the minimum wallboard, sheet rock requirements for dividing walls of duplexes and 4-plexes, tired of hearing neighbors toilet flush, fights, children’s tantrums and a whole host of other things we’ve all heard and wished we didn’t. And if someone is looking to invent something extremely useful, coveted by many, how bout a self-standing trash bag so when you take it out of the can and add items on trash nigh you’re not picking up the floor, when you use them for moving and storage you’re not throwing your back out holding the bag open with one hand and trying to fill it with the other.


Lastly is the practicality element, the dose of reality many people for many, many years to come will live in standard homes with standard technology, are renters renting standard apartments, leasing homes far too old for smart upgrades and landlords too profit minded to bother. Stated before, this technology runs on Wi-Fi, can’t get Wi-Fi, live in one of the dozens of sections nationwide known as wireless dead zones; you’re sorely out of luck. Meaning the things on display at CES making it into your living room, living rooms everywhere is highly unlikely for the next 20-50 years and that may just be a good thing. Because, a secondary practicality problem is what happens when all this tech malfunctions; forget when shades start opening themselves, toilets start flushing for no reason, doors won’t unlock even when you enter the correct code, swipe your thumb print, what happens when  your internet goes down, your mobile phone service cuts out?  That convenience they sold you thousands of dollars worth of tech for isn’t so convenient; prone to random power outages, live in a city prone to those pesky rolling blackouts, then a smart home situation definitely isn’t for you. Just ask anyone with a laptop running windows 7 or beyond; plugged in not charging sound familiar, usually caused by the smallest interruption in electricity. Outages wreak havoc on electronics; the best surge protection in the world won’t necessarily keep from frying something, imagine rebooting your entire house the way you reboot your computer, or the time it could take to do so individually system by individual system. Can’t reboot, lights won’t turn on, shades won’t adjust, thermostat is stuck too high or too low despite changes in the weather and the manual flush on the toilet is jammed; worse the help centers for smart homes are identical to help centers everywhere, manned by phone jockeys given no more than a dozen basic help tips to deal with people gaining their tech legs handling people who forgot to plug this in, lost passwords, totally unprepared for what you need. Service too is likely out of India, some other distant corner of the globe with ultra-cheap wages so while you’re panicking about the down security system, would like to go to bed tonight but are worried about a front door that won’t lock you’re combatting an accent almost language barrier as well. In home tech help cost money, roughly $100 per hour if PC home repair visits are any judge, or if you are past your measly 5 year extended protection agreement that, though this is for your home is only slightly extended past a normal electronics extended service agreement. Maybe having the coolest house on the block isn’t so cool after all, something to think about.