- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Today, we have technologies whose time may not have come: First, a refrigerator you can talk to on your cell phone, and control remotely.

Now, to understand this concept, you need to understand the high-tech electronics market. Like a shark, it has to keep swimming or it drowns. It is different from, say, the aspirin market where demand is fairly static. With enough advertising, the aspirin industry might persuade people that they have a few more headaches, but not many more. The market is mature.

The electronics industry, by contrast, is used to continuous growth. First, 25 years ago, it built weak-minded computers that didn’t do much. Then better and faster ones. Then yet better and yet faster ones. Hard drives. Bigger hard drives. Modems and better modems. PDAs. CD burners. People upgraded every two years because they needed more computing power.

Now you can buy a no-name box for $700 that will do everything you will ever need it to, and do it for five years. You have no reason to upgrade. This is bad news in circuit land. So … what’s the electronics industry going to do to keep selling things?

Sell you refrigerators you can talk to. Stoves you program while commuting. It is being tested in Boston by something called Project Mealtime, which will give 20 families a Polara range and a Whirlpool Conquest refrigerator hooked to the Internet.

As LinuxInsider describes it: “The setup will enable the woman of the house to call up the range on her specially outfitted cell phone and tell it that she will be an hour later than expected. She can then instruct it to start defrosting the frozen turkey later than originally planned.” The families will also have a flip-screen TV in the kitchen so they can look up recipes on the Web.

Now, none of this is technically challenging. Web-enabled cell phones exist, the Internet exists and refrigerators exist. Putting them together is an interesting idea and entirely possible. The question is: Do people really want to program their air conditioners and stoves from afar?

The second idea of dubious desirability: GPS-based advertising that you can’t escape. The idea has been around for a while. The problem is that is becoming technically possible.

Soon, cell phones will be federally required to contain global-positioning system chips that will let governments know exactly where you are when you make a telephone call. This ostensibly is so that, if you have a car wreck on a deserted road, the ambulance can find you. Depending on how it was implemented, it would also allow you to be tracked precisely.

As TechNewsWorld describes the possible future, “You are walking past a coffee shop one morning, your mobile phone beeps, and up pops a coupon for a free croissant.”

If my cell phone beeped every two blocks to tell me about something I didn’t want to know about, I would throw the wretched thing from the window and firebomb the coffee shop. We already have telemarketers, spam, pop-ups, constant songs about aspirin and cars on the radio, and so on. Now are cell phones are going to spam us? This is what advertisers want.

GPS is getting cheap enough to make this possible. It isn’t just cell phones. If you drive a car with GM’s OnStar electronic-map system, the advertisers would like it to start blinking and buzzing every time you pass a gas station with a sale on air filters.

This could be a real nuisance.

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