Thursday, September 21, 2017

The Curse Of Smart Appliances

[“Let Inga Tell You,” La Jolla Light, published September 20, 2017] ©2017
It’s getting harder and harder to find dumb appliances. You’d think that with tens of millions of us Boomers descending into incipient senility that appliance manufacturers would be falling all over themselves to create the Jitterbug phone version of washers, dryers, stoves, microwaves and remotes. 
We Boomers are definitely not the target audience for all these “smart” appliances. We all have memories of appliances that required no manuals whatsoever to operate.
It is too much to ask (ok, apparently it is) to get a simple but quality appliance? 
For example, for decades I had stoves that had two dials: one for temperature and the other that could be set for Bake, Broil, or Pre-heat.  Now, I did have to actually remember that Pre-heat takes about 15 minutes but I didn’t require that I be able to watch an electric counter on my stove’s touch screen inch up to 350 degrees.  I didn’t even require a buzzer to tell me it was ready but it was a whole new era when one did. I think I could be pretty senile and still make that stove work. 
If the bake igniter went out (pretty much the only thing that could go wrong with stoves in that era), the repair guy had one on his truck. One visit and I was back in business.  Now, of course, one teeny weeny malevolent little microchip flakes out on your electronic control panel and the whole effing thing has to be replaced. Last time it required a month to order and cost $590 (plus $150 labor). 
Come back, two-dial stove. I really miss you. 
Smart appliances obviously do not think highly of the intelligence of users. This is why most new appliances are afflicted with “feature creep” – new and ever-more complicated options guaranteed to make your life miserable and to require expensive repairs. When my appliances think they know best, I’m willing to hang it all up. 
Take, for example, this cautionary tale from an East Coast friend who bought a “smart” washing machine: 
At our house in Connecticut, we have an LG HE top loading machine, recommended for having less vibration than front loaders and no mildew problem. It has a feature called "load sensing" that allows the machine to tell if the load is balanced. Unfortunately, as far as I can tell, the machine has a very strict definition of a balanced load that would seem to require that there is an even number of items of a similar weight and bulk in a load and that they are evenly distributed in the drum. If the machine, in its infinite wisdom, decides the load is unbalanced, it will attempt to remedy the situation by refilling with water. It will do this multiple times, resulting in cycle times of up to two hours (not kidding). Keep in mind that this is an "Energy Star" rated machine. Eventually, it will give up. Then we usually unplug it and set it to “spin only” which can work. When it successfully completes a cycle it plays a cheerful little tune which infuriates me every time I hear it.
When I went online to see if others had the same issue with the machine, I found cyberspace to be loaded with dissatisfied customers, one of whom posted the following advice:  "Go to the top floor of your house. Open the largest window. Throw the machine out the window. Problem solved."
A particularly unfortunate result of this issue is that the gentle or "hand wash" cycle is virtually useless because of the unlikelihood of being able to create a "balanced load" of delicates.
I am so excited to be in Martha's Vineyard for the summer where my 20-year-old Maytag stackable completes the wash cycle in 20 minutes and delivers clean clothes. I highly doubt it is less "efficient" than my "smart" machine.
On our dryer, at least,“wrinkle control”( the thing that keeps fluffing up your clothes every 30 seconds so they won’t get wrinkled if you can’t get to them right anyway) is a feature that you must select.  But on some machines, it’s automatic.  Friends went to Europe having put clothes in the dryer before they left. It was still fluffing when they returned.
Maybe it’s my age that I see every appliance feature as “one more thing to break.”  Or maybe it’s my age that I’ve repaired way too many appliances that had features I never wanted in the first place.  So note to appliance manufacturers:  Our neurons aren’t getting any younger.  The first thing I’m going to forget how to use is the complicated touch screen on my stove. Please please make some appliances for the elderly.  You don’t have to call them Dementia Appliances.  In fact, it would be better if you didn’t.  But here’s a hint: if it needs a manual, you’ve failed.


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