A couple years ago, I outfitted Casa del Blancher with these smart home pucks. In nearly every room, except the bathrooms of course, these round hockey puck-like digital boxes connect our rooms to each other.

At first it was great. If anyone wanted to page one of the kids, instead of yelling throughout the house, you could say in a moderate tone “Smart Box, page <insert child’s name here>”. The “Smart Box” broadcast the name, and the child would continue to ignore you. But at least the preemptive effort had been made not to yell through the house.

For me, streaming radio and news was the big draw for the “Smart Box”. Set up a custom list, tell the box to play it, and get all the hourly news updates from CBC, CTV, NPR, TSN, etc. When working in the kitchen, I could stream a custom play list of my favourite music. I even invested in a “Smart Stick” to plug into my TV to make it a “Smart TV” as our TV was purchased a year before Smart TVs were a thing. It was great. I could stream from all the different services and if I didn’t want to type in the name of what I was looking for, I could click a button and tell it. The power of the Interwebs was just a click away.

As readers may note, I have written about these wonderful, modern inventions and conveniences in the past tense. Our “Smart Home” has gotten progressively dumb, and dumber.

Gone are the days of saying “Smart Box, play the news.” Now it is a progression of me saying then yelling the command three to ten times.

I ask for the temperature outside, and “Smart Box” responds with what the internal temperature for cooked chicken should be. An important fact to know, but not what I asked.

Tell the “Smart Box” to play the news, and it replies with a performance from the Metropolitan Opera in New York City. Granted, I know I need some culture in my life, but I prefer Jazz or Blues.

Voice command problems are just one of the frustrating issues regarding these progressively “Stupid Boxes”. The brains behind designing these systems have issues with leaving things well enough alone. Making something work isn’t enough. They have to reinvent the wheel and make it better. Leave the wheel alone! It’s round, it works!

These so-called improvements have meant fewer news sources in my feed because the “Stupid Box” detected I am in Canada not the United States. The international border is closed due to the pandemic, and apparently so too is the internet. Other services like streaming music that were “unlimited” are now unlimited except for this bigger library of songs, which you have to pay extra. For the record, that service still calls the first level of service “unlimited”. Maybe the “Stupid Box” gave them the wrong definition of that word too?

When I tell the “Stupid Box” to play a TV show, it gets confused if that show is available on more than one streaming service. I don’t care which company the show streams from, pick one and just play the damn show! It’s bad enough it takes 30 minutes to go through multiple streaming services just to pick something to watch in the first place. I miss the simplicity of the three channel universe – CBC, CTV, and if you held the coat hanger in your left hand and stood only on your right foot while touching your finger to your nose, you could get Global TV.

I have considered switching to another “Smart Home” system, but given the cost, it is cheaper to contact the company and complain a lot. Using the “Stupid Box” to send in those complaints means I know they will be heard, right? Or will they?

Years ago, when personal computers were first available to the masses, I remember hearing this adage that the computer is only as smart as the user. I don’t think it applies in this case. At least I hope not, that might just explain everything!

Published in the March 10, 2021 issue of The Morrisburg Leader.