Holidays and smart houses

In case no one has noticed, we are in the middle of a holiday drought. I’m talking about holidays when almost everyone, or at least most folks, get off from work.

It happens every year at this time. And it’s a shame because folks have to go cold turkey after having Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day so close together.

Unless I’ve missed something, there are only three federal holidays between New Year’s Day and the Fourth of July. And face it folks, while some people do get off work on Martin Luther King Day, President’s Day and Memorial Day, it’s not nearly as many as get off for those big days during the Holiday Season. I know I never got off for any of those I mentioned.

And as for the rest of the so-called holidays that fall in this period – well, they aren’t sure-enough holidays, are they? St. Patrick’s Day and Easter never meant a day off for me, and don’t for a lot of folks.

Okay, so finally, comes July 4, and the holiday-starved among us celebrate Independence Day and most of us get to relax a bit. After that, there’s another drought until Labor Day, and I never got Labor Day off, either. Same for Columbus Day and Veteran’s Day. I’m sure I’m not alone.

So from New Year’s Day to Independence Day, Not many people are getting to take off from work. And then from Independence Day to Thanksgiving, pretty much the same thing happens.

Of course, there are those who never get a day off, period. First responders have to be on duty or on call, along with hospital staff and others.

Maybe someday, in the middle of all that holiday drought, there could be something like First Responders’ Day, or Those Who Don’t Get Regular Holidays Day, when all those folks could turn off their phones and pagers, and spend a day with their families unbothered by the rest of us.

Of course, “the rest of us” to whom I just referred would also have to have our own holiday then. It could be called, Stay Inside and Don’t Even Light The Kitchen Stove Day. Or even better, it could be Stay In Bed Day.

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A lot of folks are terribly upset that their privacy is possibly being invaded. Seems every time one turns around there’s another story of millions of people’s personal information being hijacked by, or downright given to, companies or entities or maybe even governments. There is a goodly amount of outrage expressed at this.

I find this confusing, because so many of us – maybe many of the same people who are complaining – are simultaneously rushing to risk their privacy even more.

Nowadays it isn’t enough, for the techno savvy folks among us, to have a phone or even a smart phone, or a computer. They have to possess a “personal voice assistant” which, as the name suggests, is voice activated. Several companies are offering this, and some folks just can’t wait to use them.

Not many people are stopping to ask where those voice requests are going, who can hear them, or what some clever person might do with the information once he or she has it.

And of course, from the voice assistant, the next logical step is “home automation.” This is a lot like the voice activated feature on the smart phone, desktop or laptop, only moreso. With it, one can run one’s house totally by computer. Absolutely wonderful. The future is here. What could possibly go wrong?

Maybe nothing would go wrong, but that chill I just felt might have come from a tiny whisper of HAL the computer in  2001: A Space Odyssey” saying, “I’m sorry Dave. I’m afraid I can’t do that.”

Or perhaps a little more down to earth, though ironically it was spoken in space, is a line from “Search For Spock,” when Scotty says: “The more they overthink the plumbing, the easier it is to stop up the drain.”

To me, that means, the more gadgets we acquire, the more dependent we become on technology without question, the more people with less than noble motives will be able to tinker.

And it may not always be people. Computers are getting smarter all the time. My most recent “Smithsonian” gives a glimpse into a possible future that could be great, or not so great. Scientists are pointing to a future event they like to call the Singularity. It’s supposed to be a time when artificial intelligence will reach a tipping point, and machines become exponentially smarter than humans. Some predict that this point will be reached within the lifetimes of many who are alive today.

So, okay. If and when that happens, what will it mean? Will it mean a future like “The Jetsons,” with  machines happy to do everything for us? Will it be like “Star Trek,” with exploration and adventure? Or  will it be more like “Terminator” or HAL the computer when it happens?

I’d like to think that folks could still live ordinary lives in peace and safety. We’ll see. I often joke that I don’t want a phone that’s smarter than I am. When I think about it seriously, I’m even more sure. And I don’t want a house smarter than me, either.

(EDITOR’S NOTE: David Nichol is a freelance writer who retired from the Times-Herald. He can be contacted at

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