Digital and the social revolution in homes – Series 2 of 2

Because the boundary between work and home is blurred, digitization has extended to the home. Digital assistants are with us everywhere, including in the toilet and shower. Digital assistants and programs are nurturing the young and helping humankind to relate. Digitization and its tools are now human kindreds, only that unlike humans, they don’t have blood.

We are substituting humans and their limitations, with automation via digitization. The digital revolution has been happening for the last thirty years plus, but mostly in the office.

In the guise of bringing structure and order to today’s complicated lifestyle, where time is never enough to do all there is to do, digital processes and tools are playing an increasingly significant role in organizing and directing what we do even at home

Digitization has encroached on turf that till recently was privy to the human brain.  The brain has monopolised the control and direction of human action. Well, no longer the case as its now sharing and surrendering more and more territory to the digital tools.

Digital gadgets and the ‘human being’ in them (Siri, Alexa, etc.) are helping human beings do more and more and at faster rates, but using the same static block of time. With time remaining static, digital wizardry is breaking productivity boundaries in homes and expanding what is possible. The impossible is now possible

Children are helped to learn to talk by toys that harbor powerful chips, or powerful software on our smartphones. Many parents decry the effect of TV and the smartphone on the social molding of their offspring. Ironically, they have the power to get rid of TV and the phone, but choose not to do so.

It’s not far-fetched to write on this blog that the most crucial social job in society after procreation, the duty to raise responsible offspring, is increasingly getting delegated to the ‘digital parent.’ Sadly, such substitution is happening without reflection on the possible ramification for humankind.

The epiphany of digitization in homes:

The emergence of Amazon and Apple’s digital assistants and more recently the smart speaker excited the world. Smart speakers and the ‘human beings’ in them, be it Amazon’s Alexa and Apple’s Siri, are quite an invention.

An invention that is sure to lessen the menial and mental chores that men, women, and children have to execute daily at home, eating into their mental bandwidth reserves.

Of course, the potential for humanity to redeploy mental energies to more ‘purposeful’ things is welcome. Assuming that what digital assistants are being asked to do, including managing social relations, isn’t purposeful.

Let us briefly reflect on the dynamics of the digital assistants and the smart speaker that is taking over, albeit gradually, the home control sphere. You don’t have to sing a lullaby for your baby – you can ask Siri, via HomePod, to do that for you. You can ask Siri via the HomePod to switch on your washing machine, switch your lights on and off, etc.

“Siri has some tricks up her sleeve: Siri is the voice of the device, so to speak. Like Amazon Echo and Sonos Play, you can ask Siri to play a particular song. But, unlike the aforementioned competitors, Siri will also answer questions about the song, like the name of the bass guitarist and the genre of the song. It’s not just about the music: As emphasized by Apple, the HomePod is a smart device. Which of course means that its functionality extends beyond mundane music playing. The HomePod is all set to be the HomeKit ninja; by activating Siri with a voice command, you will be able to control all HomeKit enabled devices in your home without having to use the iPhone, such as the Hue lights and the motorized blinds.”

Now, don’t get us wrong – Alexia and Siri are welcome additions that bring much-needed support to extremely stretched homeowners/workers.

However, pause and ask plus answer the questions below:

  • Do we need full-time home helpers since Siri and its peers can now organize our homes and how will this impact the extended family in Africa (extension is partially a creation of the need to share chores..)?
  • Do daycare centers/carers need as many human beings or can they deploy digital assistants and how will this impact child development?
  • If all the chores at home can be managed by the digital ‘friend,’ what physical activity should we do to avoid a sedentary lifestyle?
  • Will the digital generation, be social enough? Don’t human beings need other human beings to live a more fulfilling life?
  • Shall we be able to pass on folklore to our children? For example, how do our kids remain true Basoga?
  • Those from tribal societies like us, may Alexia and Siri be the beginning of the end of our tribe? Will Apple ever write Siri code in Lusoga?
  • Are we starting to witness the demise of culture as we know it and the emergency a third-culture world that has no culture?
  • May what appears effective and efficient undermine the societal social fabric?
  • Perhaps – on a more positive note: will a physically challenged child or adult use the digital assistant as a game changer? Will they now live more independently than before?

The push for ever more efficiency and effectiveness, brought about the urge to work and produce more, in the ever fixed time, may have generated solutions that deliver efficacy, but at the cost of ‘sensible’ humanity. Sensible humanity we are saying!

Suffocated by Fredrick Taylor reductionist industrial revolution routines at our white-collar jobs, parents/workers return to their homes tired and brainless. The temptation to substitute their parental/home obligations with a HomePod, smartphone or TV abound.

It’s only natural to look for help from somewhere – after all, they are human, and their bodies and brains have limits. It’s efficient and effective to substitute what we can’t do with gadgets in this digital era – they are pretty powerful

Indeed, the digitally raised kids are becoming of age – and we wonder, how their upbringing, reflected in their digital affinity and behavior, will influence how they live and behave in society.

We end on the question – is digitisation of the home good or an invisible social curse?



Categories: Uncategorized

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