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The smarter prefix

by on October 22, 2013

Image courtesy of [Archipoch] / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of [Archipoch] / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Over the past few weeks, I’ve become increasingly aware of the ‘smart’ prefix which seems to be taking over our lives: smart solutions; smart technologies; smart thinking; smart platforms; smart design. My interest in the popularity with all things ‘smart’ was piqued when I received an email about a Westminister eforum keynote seminar on ‘Smart living – connected devices, utilities and infrastructure’, taking place in December. The speakers include, for example, the VP of Telefonica Europe and Business Director of the Technology Strategy Board. Moreover, in recent weeks, my twitter feed had been alive with tweets about the launch of a new sociological magazine, Discover Sociology which, in the first edition, had a lead article on ‘big data‘.

‘Smart’ and ‘big data’ are terms increasingly found in popular discourse, regarded as ideas that will radically improve our lives. However, as recent events such as the IT problems at Greater Glasgow NHS board have also demonstrated, reliance on smart systems which organise big data are far from perfect. What is interesting from my perspective, though, is how these discourses have evolved and why. Moreover, how are they impacting on the domestic arena, and with what effect? Indeed, what does the word ‘smart’ even represent when used as a prefix to homes?

Image courtesy of [bplanet] / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of [bplanet] / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Many of the articles about smart living relate to telehealth and the role of technology in making people more independent. The question I have is independent from what….? It may be that these folks are independent from other people, but there is increasing dependency on the technology. In this context what smart really means is greater efficiency with less effort. The real irony of using the word ‘smart’ to denote that something is more intelligent or clever, becomes clear when one looks for a definition on smart… the oxford dictionary has as a description of the noun ‘sharp stinging pain’ and verb ‘feel a sharp stinging pain’. So it seems smart may not be pain free or unproblematic.

Image courtesy of [Ambro] / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of [Ambro] / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Is this a future we should be pursuing or challenging? For me, as I make my way through an extensive (and growing) collection of literatures on ‘smart’, these are the types of questions I am asking myself. Would we go so far as to suggest that the rise of such phenomena may result in augmented or mediated realities? How might this change the domestic sphere we inhabit? For instance, will the mainstreaming of ubiquitous technology and the increase of the wireless, mobile, and networked home mean that it is simultaneously everywhere and anywhere? How to we deal with this as social scientists interested in conceptualisations of home? Or as geographers, interested in home as it is related to place? I have no answers, just lots of questions. To the reading pile, I return…

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