I was reading in Forbes today that the future is to have your whole home, including your thermostat and your appliances, connected to a digital network. The only issue is that now teenage pranksters in Lithuania can hack into your home network and turn off your refrigerator, spoiling your milk. I already have enough problems with the stand-alone digital one we recently bought (shown in the picture to the right) in that it shuts itself off during a brown-out. Luckily there is a reset, where my wife gets to pull the thousand pound refrigerator out of its recess to unplug it and then reverse the procedure, hopefully not crushing the tube for the ice maker when she pushes it back in. I can’t wait for a brown-out to happen while we’re on vacation. And we should expect more brown-outs as more coal plants get shut down by new EPA regulations requiring the sequestration of CO2, even though the technology to do so does not yet exist, despite having the coldest summer and winter in a century.
I want a stupid refrigerator. I want a refrigerator that doesn’t know anything about me. I want one that just does exactly what it is told because it has no circuitry whatsoever. I want a dial and a thermocouple sending a voltage signal back to the temperature controls of the refrigerator and just have the refrigerator try to hold that temperature rather than going through a sophisticated algorithm based on time of day and phases of the moon. Forget a display of the temperature as well – I’ll just see if my milk freezes and turn the temperature knob up or down as needed. Once I have it where I want it I doubt I’ll touch it again for 15 years.
Before digital controls, refrigerators routinely lasted for the first ten years with no issues whatsoever. After ten years they might need a new thermocouple or a recharge in freon, requiring a few $10 parts and maybe a hundred dollars for the repairman’s time. Ever see a computer last ten years? Not very often. You’ll often see a drive crash or changes in settings and system updates lead to a state of no return where the system must be scrapped and replaced with a new one. Don’t expect to get ten trouble-free years out of a new appliance with computer control.
Any repairman will tell you that the thing that goes on the new appliances first is the computer. And when they break, you’re looking at $500-$1000 for a replacement. That makes many people think about just replacing the whole refrigerator, which is just what the appliance manufacturers want anyway. Isn’t that convenient.
And what does all of this technology get us? Did you really spend a lot of time adjusting things on your refrigerator in the 1990’s before this appliance technology boom? No, you just turned the knob until you were happy with the results and you went on about your life, rarely thinking about the refrigerator until it started making a strange sound or your food started spoiling early. People who were real control freaks might put a thermometer in the refrigerator and check it until they were satisfied that the temperature was remaining fairly constant, but even they left things alone after a while. Do you really need an app on your phone to allow you to control your refrigerator?
And that’s another thing. I’m noticing that as appliance become smarter, the people making them think that we’re dumber. They are starting to limit the amount of control we have over the appliances and making some of the decisions we used to make for us, sometimes to disastrous effect. For example, when we bought this new refrigerator the first one we purchased (this is our second one) had a temperature gage that was out of calibration, such that it thought it was about 8 degrees cooler than it was. In the old days I could have just turned the temperature down to the point where the control system thought it was controlling to 25 degrees F and therefore the refrigerator would really be at 33 degrees F. Actually, I would have just placed a thermometer in the refrigerator and then turned the control knob down until it was cold enough. I wouldn’t care what the control system thought.
Our new refrigerator thinks it knows better than me and has digital temperature settings. The settings are limited, however, based on what the engineers who designed the thing think is needed and to protect the consumers from bad decisions. The lowest setting is 34 deg F, because “Why would someone ever want to put their refrigerator down below 34 deg F?” (That’s about 1 deg C for you metric people out there.) That would freeze the food. Well, maybe it’s because the calibration is off, brainiacs.
I blame Apple and Steve Jobs for this snooty appliance revolution. I still remember how the IBM PC’s had a button to allow you to eject a floppy disk. The user had full control and was free to — horrors! — eject the disk before it was done writing a file. We PC people liked living on the edge, I guess.
Apples came with no such feature because they believed the user would eject the disk at the wrong time. Instead the user would ask the computer to eject the disk and the computer would decide when, and if, it would respond and eject the disk. Apple designers thought people were stupid and they knew better (funny how Liberal voters tend to like Apples, isn’t it?). Because it would hang up sometimes, Apple reluctantly placed a small hole near the disk drive which the user could use to eject the disk manually if needed by inserting a paperclip. They couldn’t make it too easy for us foolish consumers.
Now we’ve gone from CD players, which go to whatever track you request instantly and give you the disk back the second you ask, to DVD players that don’t let you skip the previews and have to read the disk before they will open up and give the DVD to you. We’ve gone from cars that you could jump-start by having several friends push you and then pop the clutch at the right time to cars with electronic interlocks on the gear shift that lock you in park unless it senses you depress the brake. these are great until your battery dies and you need a tow, since then the only way to move the car is to drag it with the wheels locked. (I witnessed this in person last weekend – good thing it was a gravel parking lot and the tow truck bed had oil on it from a previous tow.) We have automatic sinks that decide we all want luke warm water and toilets that are supposed to flush on their own but never seem to do so.
I say it is time to regain control by demanding appliances that just do what they are told and let us make all of the decisions. I’m talking to you, WhirlPool and Samsung. I want a stupid refrigerator, and a moronic dishwasher and a dullard washing machine. Who’s with me?
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