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I find it interesting that all the gadgets and gizmos that are becoming available out there are mostly tied in with ‘services’ that tell you what those gizmos and gadgets are doing. As an example: Smart thermostats are only smart if you connect through some service which displays back to you what the temp is set at, what the schedule is, etc… . That is all nice and whatnot, but there are some downsides too.

The hidden cost… of the small things…

For example; now some company out there collects data about how you run your furnace and A/C. They know your address, your energy usage, and every interaction you have with your thermostat. Additionally, you get charged for that, whether or not it ever shows up in a bill or not. Developing the software for that cool little app on your phone cost money. And while the app is freely downloaded from the app store or where ever it is you get your phone/tablet apps, you really only download it for free. The cost of that development work, regardless of the accounting shenanigans that go on to convince the customer differently, is getting rolled into what the customer pays. Probably in markup on the device itself.

Incidentally, note that the service that makes that work depends on an internet connection being in your home, or at least a land line. So you can count some percentage of your connectivity bill as cost you encounter to keep that little app up and running. No connectivity means that smart device stays pretty smart, but won’t tell you anything if you are away and want to see the settings on your thermostat.

Additionally, all that data that is collected about your thermostats settings needs to be stored somewhere. That probably means that Nest or HoneyWell or whoever sold you your smart thermostat needs to have cloud storage somewhere, which is not free. That gets rolled into the price as well. They of course have to have connectivity too, and lots of it. That costs money, and that is getting passed onto the customer one way or the other as well.

So ‘free’ is a load of BS. Nothing is every free. Companies don’t make money giving out things for free. They do make money telling you they are giving you free things, when they in fact are not. Marketing these days is only one small step away from fraud in my view.

Convenience – the enemy of independence…

There is another aspect of this that does not see much discussion (at least that I have seen). Convenience is eating us alive. It is no longer ‘convenient’ to buy bulk groceries and cook. I recall buying 50 lb bags of flour and sugar and rice. Bags of egg noodles, and other items with a long shelf life. And back then, we did not have handy bread makers, waffle/soufle makers, digital thermometers, microwaves, dehydrators, vacuum packaging machines…and a plethora of of other devices which make the job of storing and preparing good food from the garden so easy these days. But why do we not do this, in spite of the fact it access and costs are relatively low? Well, because it is too damned easy to stop at the deli, gas station, or restaurant on the way home. And that is sad in so many ways.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t object to convenience per se. However, convenience costs, even when it is cheap. It costs us an opportunity to teach our children and grandchildren about how to do things, like choosing and handling food. Growing it, harvesting it, cleaning it, various methods of storing it (pickling, canning, freezing, dehydrating, cool storage, cold storage, …etc..). It takes away an opportunity for them to learn from us and for us to learn from them. It takes away our time together…. .

I remember making cookies with Mom and Grandma when I was a kid too small to reach the top of the counter without a chair to stand on. Sugar cookies, molasses cookies, thumb print cookies. I recall hulling peas for canning, cutting green beans for canning. Prepping beef and chicken for canning. I recall pulling boiling hot quart jars from a pressure cooker and waiting to hear the ‘pop’ of the lids sealing. These were all times where we worked together, talked about things mundane and important. But we talked… . We taught and we learned.

But convenience gets to be a habit, and convenience as a habit is a lost opportunity.

The bigger items…

So how about those bigger items that we could be using? Why is it that the South facing roofs are not covered with solar panels, and where are those small wind generators that could work so well to supplement the power we pull off the grid, reducing our dependence on that grid? What are the barriers to these technologies becoming ubiquitous? So common that we simply assume that they would be a part of our lives? Why don’t we see more product and process development aimed at making us more independent?

Well, I suppose the ‘so called’ simple answer is that we as consumers are not demanding such products and services. But then, as a consumer society, we tend to want what is marketed to us as compared to demanding products which would make us more independent.

I would actually argue that this is a matter of National Security. (Hell, if the politicians can make that argument for something as stupid as a 2000 mile wall, or the right to monitor my communications, then I can damned well use it too!). Reducing demand on the grid makes sense from a security standpoint. It offers some measure of security for the individual and certainly offers security for our collectively supported grid. In today’s environment of cyber-war and utilities which are vulnerable to attacks, it makes sense to empower the local community and individuals to maintain some ability to supply themselves with power which does not require a run to the gas station for gas to put in a generator (after all, if you don’t have power, the gas station might not either).

There are many technical challenges involved with such endeavors, admittedly. But then there were/are many technical challenges to keeping a grid up and running, expanding it where needed, not to mention supplying it with power. But back to moving these technologies ‘down’ to the individual consumer…. . Yes, there are challenges involved in that idea. Safety is of course an area of concern. Not only for the consumer, but for those that maintain the grid. If a power line goes down somewhere for example, the power company can shut off power to that line ensuring that the line workers can work on it without getting lit up. But if homes are connected to that line, not consuming but instead supplying it with power, how does the line worker know that the power is off and will stay off? There needs to a mechanism to ensure the homes are not back-feeding that line while it is being worked on. Very doable, but not being done. Why?

Well, independence is not marketable these days. It flys in the face of blatant consumerism, which is based on making people as dependent as possible. Think about that…..

Here in the days where everybody and their brother is writing a book about self-empowerment and self-realization, raising kids with self-respect, learning to talk to their spouses, you would think we could look beyond what is marketed to us. You would think we could take the initiative to push back and say, no! I don’t want to depend on some massive organization to provide me with every damned thing I need.

Now why is it that we don’t do that?