Tangled in the IoT Web
By Paul Morrone, CFP®, CPA/PFS, MSA
It seems like everything in today’s world is ’smart.’ Smart TVs, smart washers, dryers, and refrigerators. Heck, you can even get a ‘smart’ crock pot or coffee machine. In vast web known as the internet of things (IoT for the techies reading this), it seems that no stone has been left unturned as we can connect everything from our toaster to light bulbs to the internet. Now I’ll be the first to admit, some of this stuff is really cool and, in many ways, I’ve drank the ‘connected’ Kool-Aid.
This didn’t happen overnight, however. iPhone aside, I was slow to adapt to the smart culture. I thought the whole idea of a connected home was cool, but superfluous. And then I got Sonos speakers. It started with a soundbar and quickly morphed into a full 5.1 surround sound system, with some other pieces throughout the house for a true immersive experience. I was hooked. The ease of use, the ability to control the system from my phone and link it up to the various streaming music services was almost too easy. To this day I think it was one of the best investments in technology I have ever made. And unlike many things today, it is built to last – many of my components are over 7 years old and look and work good as new!
But the crowing jewel of my smart collection is not the Sonos, nor the Nest doorbell, cameras, thermostat or even the TV. It is a device so simple, cheap, and effective that I can’t believe it took me this long to buy one. For less than $20 I invested in a smart plug. What is so special about a smart plug you may be wondering? My ‘ah-ha’ moment came this year when we put up our Christmas tree and I had to plug in the strands of lights in once the tree was set in place. Quick aside - we went full Griswold this year. A 10-11 footer covered in enough lights to run the length of a football field. Clark would have been proud!
Maybe you were smart enough to buy an extension cord with a switch on it, had a separate cord or some other creative way to avoid the headache of crawling under the tree to finally plug the lights in. But in my 30+ years of celebrating Christmas, I’ve never been that smart. It seems that the outlet is always in the far corner, in the least convenient location possible which means a mess, headache and a few swear words each time I fill my obligatory duty of plugging the lights in and unplugging them later that day. This inevitably means getting pricked, covered in sap or having pine needles in my hair or down the back of my shirt. Then, of course, I have to vacuum up the needles that I just knocked off the tree.
For me, 2020 will be far different (and this time in a good way!) and I will no longer have to fight the daily battle against Fern (our tree) just to turn on her lights. The smart plug has saved the day. It is so smart, in fact, that I was able to set it to turn the lights on automatically at sunset. If I forget to turn them off at night, don’t worry, there’s an app for that! From the comfort of my bed, I can see if the lights are still on and turn them off with a tap. No more needles, sap or swearing. It is a godsend.
There is still one piece of technology that I am skeptical of, however, and that is Alexa (or a Google Assistant or Siri or whomever else pops up with a crafty name). Something about a microphone constantly listens just feels invasive, not that I have anything to hide. Given the raging success of these digital assistants, it’s clear that I’m in the minority, and I’m ok with that.