Techno-Phobia:  an irrational fear, but some contend, a justifiable one.

This fear may have started when Thomas Edison invented the light bulb. Some people who were used to open flame for their light, balked at utilizing a technology they didn’t quite understand. It may have prompted the joke, “How many people does it take to ‘screw one in’ which may have served to spark a surge in the number of comedians which was badly needed to help people cope with technology.

We see three-year old children negotiating a smart phone with the zeal of a chimp continually pressing a button to get a banana. We shrink into the internal conflict of one who clings to one of the last remaining rotary phones hanging on the kitchen wall not allowing us to roam free and communicate while accomplishing at least 2 other tasks from which technology was supposed to free us.

For a long time, we’ve had the suspicion that our television was spying on us. The first clue was a text message that said “You haven’t binge watched Breaking Bad for two weekends in a row. Was it something the character said?” After the startling revelation that our connected TV was communicating with our IPhone, we brushed it off because we didn’t want to start thinking about personal intrusion into our lives by our electronics. Although it was a little disconcerting when our car started dinging when I was slow fastening the seat belt as it added “BTW How did you enjoy that dessert at Café Abracci last night?” Was the smart phone listening in? Could it hear what we said? Did it hear the table talk after a couple of bourbon manhattans? I hope not.

We have known that our smart phones are much smarter than we are, but when we turn them off, we hope to enjoy a modicum of privacy. Some of us do not turn cell phones off as we realize the term ‘9 to 5’ are just odds and not a workday.

All right now, let’s just scan the channels and turn on the Roomba so the living room is swept. Then we saw the headline: ‘Is your robot vacuum cleaner a spy?’ That’s the question consumers are asking after Colin Angle the CEO of Roomba maker iRobot Inc. made this comment: “There’s an entire ecosystem of things and services that the smart home can deliver once you have a rich map of the home that the user has allowed to be shared. (Note to self: this might mean an over-abundance of emails, texts, direct messages and whatever social networks to which you belong) In the future, with your permission, this information will enable the smart home and the devices within it to work better.”

We didn’t read the agreement. Who does? The ‘end user’ agreement, the license agreement, the services agreement, privacy policy etc agreements. We’re at the mercy of legal jargon. When you need a lawyer to explain the meaning of 4 pages of blather when you purchase a battery-operated doorbell it has gone too far.

When the statement starts off ‘Your privacy is important to us’ and is followed by 10 or 12 paragraphs which parse those words to shreds, you’ll need your own lawyer to explain that you’ve just signed away all your rights in perpetuity in the universe, seen and unseen, to a corporate monolith that will one day will control that known and unknown universe. That’s the day we rename the Sun The Universal Glowing Orb of Walmart. By the way, naming rights in our local solar system will be pricier than a 2-bedroom condo on Brickell. We call our moon ‘The Moon’ because it hasn’t got a name. Every other moon in our solar system has been named. We missed a huge branding opportunity.

iRobot also announced that an Amazon Alexa skill will be available for the Roomba Series owners in the US. That means yelling “Alexa, ask Roomba to begin cleaning” will be enough to get your vacuum robot going. The question here is when does Alexa take it on her own to send a command to Roomba? Can she sense when the floor is too dirty and you’re not going to clean it? Does she realize that she lives with slobs and her programming won’t permit that? We’ve already had communication from our refrigerator that will tell us when the cheese is too stinky and automatically throws it in the garbage. How soon until you’re standing too close to the garbage can and be tossed out too?

In the early 1800’s the Luddites, a group of anti-technology workers railed against machinery and ran around destroying it. They might have been right! Just think about how many times a day you reach for the cell phone when it beckons with a beep, whir or buzz. Don’t call me; just scream loudly into the night.


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