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TMCNet:  The Times Leader, Wilkes-Barre, Pa., Sandy Snyder column

[January 22, 2011]

The Times Leader, Wilkes-Barre, Pa., Sandy Snyder column

Jan 22, 2011 (The Times Leader - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- So, turns out my early eligibility for a brand-new phone is just a couple of weeks away. Good thing, considering the model I'm rocking now is one even 11-year-olds have discarded. Or so I'm told.

Pity, too, because it's not even 2 years old. What has the world come to? In short, my phone's not "smart." And all the cool people know "smart" is where it's at these days. My phone can access the Internet, sure, but the process is so cumbersome it's hardly worth the fuss. Smart phones aren't just about Internet access, though. With a smart phone, you can play something called "Angry Birds," battling green pigs for poached, as in pilfered, eggs. And why wouldn't you want to do that? But what does this all have to do with houses? Well, I'll tell you.

Thinking about the new "smart" phone I'll own in no time at all, I also ruminated on the new (but kind-of-old) concept of the "smart house," deciding whether I needed one of those, too. Hypothetically, of course.

Not familiar? Neither am I. All I know is smart houses have something to do with super-advanced automated systems that control lights, windows, doors, temperatures and all kinds of media-type gadgetry.

Yawn. That was my first thought. Until I realized "smart" houses can do things like water plants unassisted, which means -- cool, I can actually get plants. Or empty a cat's litter box, which means -- cool, maybe I should get a cat.

But maybe my house is smart enough, I told myself during a recent inventory, which began at the coffeepot, a mighty fine Keurig I bought even though I swore I never would. Makes one cup at a time, and I've not even once had to clean the thing. Now that's smart.

Coffee in hand, I strolled into the living room and set the DVR to record the entire series of a new show set to debut that night. (Talk about taking it on faith.) But remember when we had to mess with stacks of confusing tapes? The digital video recorder has to be one of the greatest inventions of the 21st century. Not that it doesn't have drawbacks, such as you can get greedy or even lazy. When I tried to add the new show, I got a message that the "prioritizer" had no room. I already had -- gasp -- 50 programs selected and had to delete one to add one. In my defense, I quickly found not one but an easy dozen to kill, either because I recorded but never watched them or because they'd been canceled long ago. But the process was quick and painless, and my DVR and I were at peace again. Also smart.

Content I had a good helping of advanced technology, I then toured the rest of house, and, well, I'm afraid my luck ran out. Certain features, ah ...

Bedroom doors still don't quite close. (Settling). Pipes make funny noises, and floors creak. Important things, like the furnace, are maybe 40 years old and finicky, though I'm kind of proud of the old goat. It showed up the brand-new (supposedly smart) energy-saving dryer designed to sense when the clothes are dry and power down. Too bad the electronic component that controls this failed after only two years. Decidedly not smart.

And another issue: In the age of the smart house, what of the old-world details we all still know and love, even crave? Might they look out of place amid too many fancy new whizbangs? What if they fight? I might side with the old, the time-tested, the stuff I think we, sometimes resignedly, call "charming." At least at my place, we've made our peace.

I do love you, you big, dumb house.

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