Smart or S-mart

I have always been interested in the anthropomorphization of the word ‘smart’ and its use or connotation when applied to computing. Lister tells us that smart houses, intelligent domestic appliances, black box edutainment systems and personal post-web info-sumerism portals are all the rage in futurist circles (223 -239). What makes these houses ‘smart’ and these appliances ‘intelligent’? Ability to follow simple pre-programmed hierarchical decision trees and the element of interactivity? Isn’t that essentially what a computer does now? Then why don’t we call the computers we use today ‘smart’ : Why don’t we call other devices with complex microprocessors like microwaves ‘smart’. Does this conversely mean that all other houses and appliances are ‘dumb’? The choice and application of vocabulary revolving around this issue is an interesting one to ponder and it leaves me thinking… is it a case of projecting our own egos, hopes and fears or is it just a matter of garbage in/garbage out in the post- industrial consumer dream.

These smart meters don’t seem very smart to me

6 responses to “Smart or S-mart

  1. This is a great point, Matt. I’ve always thought that “smart” technology branding never made much sense. The smart house makes me think of that Looney Toons episode where the house has all the mechanical buttons that do everything for you, but you must not press the red button (only in case of tidal waves). I think that the “smart” term is leftover from the 70s that manages to make its way back into our current vocabulary.

  2. I remember when Apple introduced new small computer IPad, they used word, “magic” in the video. When I heard “magic” I thought they are misleading people who don’t know computer well. Since magic is related to super natural, they are distorting that IPad is superior to human. I think this kind of advertisement can affect people’s attitude regarding digital medium.

  3. Joanne Adeyemi

    I do agree with you Mike, I guess the word smart is for the most part subjective. What’s the goal here? To make people feel smart for using the computer? How about the other technology? Not as smart I presume.

  4. When you think about technology terminology – namely “dumb terminal” – there is a connotation that being able to follow issued commands equates to intelligence. Think about “smart dogs”, those that can follow a simple command to fetch and object and deliver it to the owner. You’re correct, our concept of what is smart is very ego-centric.

  5. I think that “smart” is short hand for “technology that doesn’t make you (the user) feel stupid.” Similarly, users who fail to properly employ the smart tech are implicitly stupid. All this to say, I agree with your sentiment. “Smart” is fraught with a discourse about ego, other (users), and a given technology.

  6. Good point Richard!
    Smart technology to me seems that it is designed to be something that “relieves” the user of “responsibility”–you don’t have to know anything about the technology to use it without issue. It often marketed as if it is designed to keep us from “screwing it up”, and that it takes care of itself.

    Trust me, if it can be broken, I will do it!