“Steven, come down here and turn on the lights!”
Oops. She’s using the full first name, so I know something is amiss. Yet another one of my experiments in mobilization may be backfiring. The living room lights are now controlled by my iPhone. My wife hates this. I am testing a new set of ridiculously expensive ($200) Hue lights from Phillips. In the starter set, three LED lights are connected to a wireless hub that synchs with an iPhone app.
You guessed it. This is the nightmare scenario for spouses of gadget geeks like me. The living room remote was bad enough. Ownership of that tool has been a notorious bone of contention in American domestic life for generations now. Start offloading other remote control tasks to smartphones, and you have escalated the war to new levels.
My wife, God bless her, is reconnoitering this terrain for suffering spouses of the future.
More than once we have been lying in bed late at night only to hear the TV and home theater pop on in the living room below on its own.
“Hey, somebody turned the TV on,” she says with a start.
“A cord-cutting burglar needing to binge-watch Breaking Bad?” I quip.
Nope. It is just some funky behavior from one of the Dish set-top-box apps I use on the iPad. Often I will peruse the late-night TV grid in bed to record overnight movie showings. The app tends to activate the Dish box, which in turn sends the audio signal to the home theater amp, which is left on. Voila! A ghost turns on the TV while we are in bed.
Having such control over the entire TV ecosystem in the house has a lot of odd effects. More than once I have unwittingly changed channels on the TV in my wife’s workroom.
“The TV has gone nuts,” she yells up.
“Sorry. It was me.”
“Okay. Good to know the technology is fine,” she yells up the stairs. “It is just my mad scientist husband who is off the rails.”
There is more. The latest iteration of the Logitech connected radio box is also now controlled by app.
“The Pandora thingie is broken,” she complains.
“No, you just need the app to activate it.”
“There is a button right there on the thingie and it won’t turn the thing on.”
“Yeah, I don’t think buttons work anymore. They are just for show now. You need the app.”
Google’s Chromecast TV plug-in has dispensed with both buttons and even on-board interface. To throw any content onto the TV screen via this dongle, the entire interface is on the compatible app.
What we haven’t considered, mainly because it is the gadget geeks making this stuff, are the domestic politics of moving appliance control to the smartphone. There is a distinct shift in power. The now-stereotypical resentment and confusion over the TV/home theater controller spreads across the more basic technologies as the home itself becomes app-ified.
Before one engages in the usual knee-jerk response, consider that there are distinct advantages. It is not just tech for tech’s sake. For instance, the beauty of the Hue lighting system is that the LEDs themselves can change both color and color temperature. My wife may not appreciate having the living room lights controlled by my iPhone, but I can turn them on for her from upstairs. Even she recognized immediately that someone coming into the house could turn the lights on before entering. That I can adjust brightness, cool to warm temps and color from the app opens up a world of possibilities. Phillips is adding to the basic set with floodlights and track lighting. Third parties are already crafting apps that can pre-program cool things like disco lighting effects and scintillating animated lighting. One can imagine your home lighting suddenly becoming a much more nuanced aspect of home design.
And the potential for mad scientist mischief is pronounced. Ceding control of appliances to the app-savviest member of the home is a transfer of power that social historians of domestic life could write about for the next generation. The App Master can start using these connected devices in subtle ways to shape behaviors. As thermostats, lighting, and connected TVs all migrate to app-based control, fundamental, mood-altering aspects of everyday life fall into the hands of the those of us probably least qualified to wield that power -- the geeky technophile. One can imagine slowly dimming lights or shifting color slowly to romantic red or blue hues. Shifting room temps on the sly could evoke all manner of behaviors.
“Stop screwing with the lights, STEVEN. Your universal remote does not work on me.”
No, it doesn’t. I have tried. It didn’t turn out well for me.
“Hey! I know what you are doing. You are trying to click the “mute” button at me, aren’t you?”
Drat! thought she didn’t understand remote controls.