Five ways the cool stuff at CES will ruin your life

There are a lot of reasons to be skeptical of a future in which smart devices of every shape and size do our thinking for us. Here are five good reasons the Internet of Things might just make our lives worse.


Why Clippy? Well, with a whole new generation of smart devices observing their surroundings, expect a phalanx of Clippy's cousins to soon invade your home, car and workplace. Using the same knucklehead heuristics, they'll notify you of minutae that you could care less about. Your smart refrigerator will complain when the Monterey Jack goes green. Your "smart" fork beeps at you if you're eating too much - or at least too quickly (it can't really tell the difference). Adrift in a sea of smart devices, we'll have no choice but to cover our ears as it chirps up at inopportune times to offer help performing tasks that we'd be happy putting off forever. As with Clippy, you'll enjoy five minutes of "gee whiz" amazement at the abilities of your new intelligent gear before you start rifling through the owner's manual to try to figure out how to shut it off.

3) Crap design
For every visionary like Steve Jobs, there is an army of well ... Not-Steve-Jobs. That's why Mr. Jobs's legacy might not be great product design, but lots of terrible product design mimicking great product design - or at least trying to glom onto it. How else should we consider this year's official CES dog, the iPotty, ICA Digital's toddler's training seat with a built in holster for an iPad. "When you are potty training you have to keep them busy. This keeps them engaged and gives them rewards for the right kind of behavior," Lois Eiler of CTA Digital told Joanna Stern of ABC News. The product is designed to keep kids distracted while they do their business, or even help them along with potty training apps. (Yes - there are aps for that.) Garish in neon orange and green plastic, the iPotty looks like something Steve Jobs would endeavor to flush away, rather than display.

The bigger problem may be the way all these well-meaning, but badly designed products will change our behaviors and, indeed, reality - filling our most private moments with opportunities for distraction rather than -say - contemplation. Martin Luther was famously struck with the ideas that formed his Ninety Five Theses while sitting on the toilet in the Monastery in Wittenberg. Where would we be now, I wonder, if that chilly toilet was equipped with a bright, chirping iPad and a copy of Angry Birds, instead?

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