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Home Reconfigured

Our experience of life at home is changing in fundamental ways. We recently asked members of our network to share their views on this topic here. There are contributions from our leadership team, senior practitioners and clients from TeamKnowHow and MMB Networks (key to our zigbee alliance work). This is our CEO, Ije Nwokorie’s piece.

Something major happened in 2007. My daughter got a baby brother.

Oh, and something else happened…

The iPhone.

About a year later, big sister, in an act of generosity she’s rarely demonstrated since, offered little brother her cherished toy phone, with its bright protruding buttons that screamed “press me!”

He took one look at it, gave it an almighty heave, and made a b-line for his mother’s iPhone. And we realised, this guy only had time for things he could interact with directly; input mechanisms like buttons and mice represented an inefficient way for him to make the world do what he wanted it to do.

For business thinkers, designers, technologists and makers of all sorts, the last 10 years have presented us with an incredible creative brief. Not just for interfaces and creative expressions, but for organisations’ and products’ very reasons for being, for the ways they saw their customers; all was being rethought.

We failed.

Sure, phone calls got cheaper. Booking travel got faster. Information surged to our fingertips more easily. We gained an incredible facility to make things faster, simpler, cheaper, familiar.

To optimise everything.

Optimisation celebrates the rational over the intuitive, the functional over the spiritual, the individual over the shared. While it is an important tool, when we set optimisation (or its wingmen simplicity and pragmatism) as our main objective, we’re less likely to do things that make the heart sing.

And maybe that’s contributed to the fact that we have too many companies without moral compasses, too many echo chambers accusing other echo chambers of being echo chambers, too many leaders who depend on exclusion and division, instead of inclusion and common good.

We can’t let that happen in our homes.

The ultimate safe space, our homes are increasingly being invaded by services on demand, some of them even ambient and predictive. Our serene, sacred, intimate spaces, now have ears listening in on them, eyes watching over them, people beaming in from thousands of miles away.

For a bit of convenience – anything we want, in near-real time – we are not only trading away the sacredness, we are opting out of some of the things families and room-mates did together: the weekly food shop, the visit to the library, the monthly budgeting exercise.

The most articulate promise of the connected is to bring the things, people and expertise we need to run a smooth home to us, so we don’t ever have to think about it. It’s a thrilling promise on the surface, but is there any outcome that makes us more, not less human? New forces of AI, machine learning and ambient technology present us with amazing opportunities not just to design for new realities, but to shape them into better ones: surprising, human, optimistic, thoughtful.

They present us with a new brief.

And it’s an invitation we should accept right now. Not to optimise for their obvious application to our current realities —faster, cheaper, simpler. Not to sign us off the daily chores of life over which families and neighbourhood have been forged with emotion and real human connection. Instead, to apply our crafts with people at the heart. To tap into the things that define us as human: making things that are more beautiful than they need to be, embracing joy and sorrow, laughter and tears, the in-crowd and the disenfranchised.

Participating fully in determining our own futures:

Connected homes should not be about selling people more stuff, but about helping families thrive.

VR and AR should not be about replacing, substituting or even augmenting physical experiences, but about creating new kinds of spaces that make our homes more private, more secure, more intimate.

And automation and machine learning should not be about finding cheaper, more efficient ways to execute tasks, but about creating new ways to bridge the gaps that are growing ever larger in our homes: between old and young, the tech-addicted and the tech-phobic.

Maybe instead of connected homes, we should start thinking about Conscious Homes. Places that help nurture relationships frayed in increasingly fraying times; that give us power to define what’s right for us and our families, creating private spaces to switch off or catch up; that bring into sharp relief hyper-local connections so we can help each other in life-affirming ways, because of, not in spite of, technology.

That strikes me as a better brief for this next phase of technology in our homes: something that makes us more, not less human.


Illustration by Thomas Hedger