What is it about “future of X” concept videos by big corporations that just inevitably come off as tone-deaf” Ericsson has one about “the social web of things,” which is another phrase for the vaunted “internet of things” — in which the physical objects that surround us (from garage doors to toasters to toothbrushes and everything in between) are networked together via the web to become “smart”. This future is always just around the corner, and it’s always pitched as a wonderland of unalloyed awesomeness: your fridge knows when the milk is bad and orders more, your house knows when you’re on the way home and sets the temperature just right, and so on. So why does the scenario in this video feel so… creepy”
In case you didn’t watch the whole thing, here’s what happens: Young Sexy Futuredude is getting ready for a date of some kind. His bachelor pad, awesomely appointed with all kinds of “smart” stuff, “converses” with Mr. Futuredude to psyche him up while it marshalls the efforts of all the household appliances to make the apartment as chick-impressing as possible for when he brings his date home later that night. It’s like watching that scene from Snow White in which all the woodland creatures magically clean up her house, but with HAL running the show instead of Snow White.
The house cranks up the game on TV, as if to say: Forget that ho.
All well and good. But when Futuredude gets stood up (or something) by his date, that’s when things take a weird turn. The HAL-like omnibrain controlling everything in the house is also connected to the car, so when it hears the bad news from Mr. Futuredude, it tells all its appliancey minions to reverse course and get ready to cheer the master up instead of impress his nonexistent date. He comes home to soothing music, his favorite TV program cued up, and his favorite comfort food steaming on the table. But when his erstwhile date calls his cell phone — to apologize, maybe explain that she got caught up at work? — the house suddenly turns the game on TV at high volume, as if to say: Forget that ho, sir. We know how to take care of you. So he declines the call and spends the night alone! Uh, happily ever after…?
Maybe this is why at least one blogger found Ericsson’s video “cold, bitter and heartless”: do we want to live in a world surrounded by networked stuff whose omnipresent servility encourages our most petty impulses, and actively discourages us from emotionally connecting with other humans? This video, and its vision of the user experience delivered by “the social web of things,” veers unintentionally-but-unnervingly close to Idiocracy, another filmic future where “smart” stuff caters to everyone’s whim at all times… and creates selfish, crude douchebags out of everyone. Granted, Futuredude doesn’t ever say “Go away! ‘Batin’!” to his female caller. But after a few more nights at home like the one shown in Ericsson’s video, rest assured: it’s only a matter of time.