- February 2004 -
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We admire our smart home. It keeps us safe & happy. This has to do with feelings, right? But have you ever wondered why Psychology, Fashion and Feelings are never mentioned when it comes to Home Automation - is it merely about AC3, CAT5 and X-10 ?
by Guy Schory
Home is a special place. In our daily lives, many people face certain conflicts at work and at school. When they return home, they look for a cozy place to relax and feel protected. Therefore it is important for a house to be suitable for its residents - its location, physical condition, inner structure etc. A successful home automation system blends into the house and becomes 'invisible' just like the structure of the house itself. As long as things go well no one notices it.
But when things start to go wrong, it's much worse than when your PC at work hangs, for two reasons: First, as mentioned, instead of coming home to relax, you come home and start trying to fix it. Secondly, since the whole house might be connected to the smart home controller, things could get rough - water sprinklers going off, unbearable temperatures, a locked front door and worse. But let's start with a more positive approach…
The benefits of the smart home
I will now list some common features of smart homes and other technological products installed in houses, divided into categories. In order to look at the psychological benefits we must temporarily ignore the obvious benefits. For example, the obvious benefit of a fire alarm is to alert the residents in case of fire and hopefully save them. The psychological benefit, on the other hand, is the feeling of security. This benefit is always there, not only when the house burns down.
A psychological benefit basically means 'something that makes you happy'. Different people are made happy by different things, for example: eating ice cream, feeling relaxed, being proud and so on. The need for happiness is one of our strongest emotional needs, if not the only one. People involved in home automation are not always psychologically 'aware' of themselves. Some people might be offended by being treated as part of a group having certain psychological characteristics. For those I suggest to remember that marketing specialists, the people who shape the world of home automation, view their customers in exactly the same way (and want their money…) Still there is no reason to be offended - on the contrary. Specifically the 'unaware' readers may gain a better understanding of what they are looking for in their smart home, and why.
Security & Safety
Smart homes provide protection to their residents both from strangers and from accidents. Also, there is a constant attempt to achieve this as conveniently as possible. Features dealing with security include:
Features dealing with safety include:
The psychological benefit of security and safety is quite obvious. When you are at home you know that you and your family are safe from harm, and this gives you peace of mind. This goes especially for parents of young children, people looking after their elderly parents, and people with valuable possessions. These groups feel that they have much to lose and thus might live in constant anxiety. Strangely, people are rarely as concerned about themselves as they are about others. This is probably due to the lack of control that they experience. Technological solutions can reduce dangers, but also give the owner peace of mind and a feeling of being more in control.
The smart home claims to save you time, money, electricity and water, and thus it is environment-friendly as well. Some of these features are:
First of all, let me explain my personal point of view - I care about the environment. But it doesn't mean that there is no psychological benefit involved as well. Don't underestimate the psychological benefit of feeling 'environmentally-ok'. Environmental issues and saving of resources are usually perceived as a win-win situation, therefore helping the person feel they are 'doing the right thing'. Everyone wants conservation, right? I call this 'win-win' as opposed to going on a health diet, for example, which may involve enjoying your food less but gaining the feeling of 'treating your body right'. In the latter case you might constantly face inner conflicts, as opposed to helping the environment.
For some, the convenience of the smart home is a luxury. For others, it is a necessity. The smart home may give disabled people the ability to live a more normal life. For others too, convenience is not a negative word. A few decades ago a TV remote control would have been considered a hilarious gift for a lazy person (not having to get up from the sofa to change channels). Nowadays it is the most obvious accessory. What is considered 'convenience', what is 'normal' and what is 'necessity' certainly changes over the years. Convenience features include:
Convenience features are mostly implemented by transferring information instead of matter, in other words - not having to move from one place to another just to talk to someone, press some button or look at the calendar or TV guide. What is the psychological benefit of convenience? For disabled people it certainly helps to build self confidence, being able to perform more daily tasks by themselves. Other people, who are proud of being lazy, feel that they are fulfilling their destiny - doing less and living longer... But for most of us, there is some psychological benefit in doing things in a smarter manner. By saving time and effort we may feel that we can make better use of these resources.
Hobby and Status Symbol
There is a thin line between home automation as a symbol of status and as a hobby. A status symbol is something to be proud of, it is a part of 'who you are' and is usually presented to others in some form. A hobby is much the same, but in the form of an occupation, and so takes up more of your time and gives you pleasure in doing it.
Currently, the smart home is best-known for these features. They may include:
Once again, I apologize to those who are offended by the term 'status symbol'. I don't imagine anyone spending so much money on a sound or viewing system unless they truly enjoy it. Nevertheless, the above mentioned features are also the part of the smart home which could be demonstrated to visitors.
When visitors come, they will not be impressed by hearing about the efficiency of the irrigation system, when all they can see is the sprinklers. What they can appreciate is the sensual part (in both meanings) of the smart home - quality audio and video.
People who enjoy attention and admiration from others will benefit much from the compliments they receive. The exquisite sound and the big TV image leave a strong impression on the viewer and the credit goes to the owner. When talking about the technical spec, the price is usually mentioned since it, too, is a sign of quality and hence a status symbol of the owner.
The website name - "Home Toys" is an example of having a good perspective on these features. A toy is what you use to make everyone jealous with, and what you play with when you're bored at home. We all enjoy attention and we all enjoy toys, but it is important not to take these too seriously or we may neglect other issues that we, as adults, need to take care of, such as our families.
This is a good introduction to the second part of the article, which will look at the possible problems of the smart home.
Guy lives in Israel and works as a freelance developer of electronic embedded systems. He has been in the field of home automation for 10 years. He studied programming, electronics, design of man-machine interface, marketing and human geography. firstname.lastname@example.org