Why I Don’t Have a Smart Home

Smart homes were supposed to be a big thing ten years ago. Then they were supposed to be a big thing 5 years ago. And now, when Google and Amazon are in the market, they are really expected to be a big thing.

I can’t tell if they are, but I know one thing — I deliberately chose not to have a smart home. And I had a very good opportunity 3 years ago when my apartment was completely turned upside down and renovated. But I was “meh”.

I made that decision (and I stand by it) for four reasons.

Complexity. It’s not at all easy to setup a smart home properly. And it doesn’t “just work”. Things are fragile, break all the time and take effort to configure. Yes, I know some people like that. If it’s their hobby, they should go for it, absolutely. I prefer spending my time experimenting with other breaking technologies. As with any technology, there’s a lot that can go wrong here. Even the limited amount of IoT-like stuff at home has issues. The air purifier woke us one night due to being reconnected. The router decided to reset its MAC address and we had no internet for a day. All the version incompatibility, upgrades, non-standard pieces, “let’s just rebuild the kernel” moments —as with any technology you have to support, it requires time. And it is complex.

Security. One can assume that by default any smart home / IoT device is crappy and insecure. This may be seen as a subset of the “complexity” point, as you need to spend time on securing stuff if you want to not expose your whole life and your devices to whoever can follow a 1-page tutorial on the dark web. The Mirai botnet is just one example. I once contemplated the option of buying a smart door. Then I decompiled the app used to manage the door and…bottom line is — I don’t have a smart door now. Is it more secure against the common thief? It’s more secure than those of the neighbours, which is all that matters.

Privacy. You can escape the complexity and most of the security issues by getting a complete smart home solution from a vendor (e.g. Google/Nest). And then you say goodbye to privacy. Hidden microphones, recording and sending back to the servers everything you say for “improving the service”. The “surveillance economy” we live in makes all of that behaviour the norm. If you decide to rely on a smart home vendor and get most of the things working easily, then you almost certainly sacrifice privacy. Not that someone at Google will watch you in particular, but you know that your data will be handled by a third party and you won’t be sure how carefully and ethically it is handled.

Return on investment. Every other issue could be considered an acceptable trade-off if it was actually worth it to have a smart home. But it isn’t. Very few smart home improvements are actual improvements. Smart thermostat? Smart lights? Smart washing machine? Smart oven? Smart window blinds? Smart screen? Smart audio? Smart doorbell? All of those things save at most 2 clicks on an existing device or are mostly useless.

I can schedule my old-school, non-connected washing machine even now. I can change the temperature by rotating a knob (and I don’t care about having a constant temperature in the room). Turning on my home projector to watch a movie requires one click and plugging one cable. 30 seconds. I don’t have a TV and I don’t need one. Playing music? YouTube and Spotify are one click away. Why would I want to use a smart home assistant and connect dozens of questionable devices in order to save myself a few clicks?

For the rest I just don’t see a point. “Mood lighting” is probably for people whose moods vary significantly; mine don’t. Literally nobody rings my bell (it even doesn’t have my name on it), because everyone that is supposed to be looking for me, has my phone number — including for food and package delivery. I don’t even have a doorbell on the door itself (used to have, but it broke and I don’t see a point in fixing it). Smart windows blinds is also useless — I don’t want to be woken up by sunlight, I want to wake up when I feel like waking up. And direct sunlight doesn’t reach my bedroom in the morning anyway.

So it’s a bunch of luxurious-but-next-to-useless improvements for the price of complexity and security and privacy risks. No, thanks.

Don’t get me wrong, though - I’m all for digital transformation and IoT improvements for buildings are important. But only where that makes sense, e.g. hotels, office buildings, malls. Where there’s scale. A smart thermostat could save a lot of money in a hotel. It would save pennies in a 2 bedroom apartment. Smart lighting can be used to influence customer satisfaction in malls. Smart screens can be useful in meetings rooms in big offices where you hop off from one meeting to another and connect to whatever screen you like without all the cable-trying.

Building automation is a big thing and I’m all for it — to cut costs, to improve perception, to optimize common tasks.

At home, however, I don’t need efficiency at scale. I don’t need the minor lifestyle improvements that I’ll forget about after the third time I use them. And I certainly don’t need the security and privacy risks, nor I want to manage the complexity of fragile technology. So no smart home for me.