Nest recently released a new ad, and let me tell you: there are some issues with the content. So you see this teenage girl in a prom dress ring a Nest doorbell, and a teen couple walk out the front door. The two girls walk to a car, as a low robotic voice beckons the boy and proceeds to give him a fatherly speech about being a gentleman. Turns out, the voice is actually coming from the doorbell and belongs to his doctor dad who is at work at a hospital. Again, there are some issues.
Let’s start with a really basic one. It’s not cool to work on your kid’s prom night. I don’t care if you’re the finest most in demand doctor in all of America, you can take an hour out of your professional ladder-climbing to give your child the old “act like a grown up and don’t commit crimes” talk. If you absolutely have to work, at least sit them down before you leave. It’s important for parents to talk to their kids in person.
That raises another issue. If you’re going to have a big serious with junior as he’s leaving for what might be the most fun or most awkward night of his young life, it is not cool to do it within earshot of his friends. Can you imagine if one of those girls heard Dad of the Year here telling her prom date to behave himself and respect her boundaries, only to turn around and see said prom date talking to the fucking doorbell?
Which brings us to the larger issue of how we use technology to live our lives and spend time with our loved ones. An internet-connected, camera-equipped doorbell is a tool that nobody really needs. Nest would love to sell you one. (It’s called the Hello, and it costs $230. UK pricing TBA) Nest would also love to sell you a Nest Cam IQ, which features facial recognition technology that can identify your children’s faces and alert you if they bring home a stranger. Nest will even sell you an entire home security system, complete with sensors for your windows and doors that will trip when your teenage son or daughter tries to sneak out and smoke cigarettes with their friends.
This is fine. Nest makes smart home gadgets. They tend to look nice and work well. But somehow we’ve come from a smart thermostat that saves you money on your utility bill to a smart doorbell that lets you to be a better absentee parent. Thanks to Nest and companies like it, you can now fill your house with devices that help you avoid being in the same room as your child. People who never wanted kids in the first place must love this. The rest of us, however, ought to think hard about what these companies are selling. It’s not just a false sense of security. It’s an eerie future we didn’t necessarily ask for.
We should have seen this coming, though. About a decade ago, when the teen in Nest’s new ad was a toddler, baby monitors started to evolve. What used to be a glorified Walkie Talkie started to gain new features, namely a video camera that could send a real-time feed to a computer or, eventually, a smartphone. The proliferation of baby cams has been a controversial one. While some parents find baby cams to be a handy way to keep an eye on their little ones, others feel like they actually invite freakish levels of anxiety into parents’ lives or—even worse—they cause parents to pay less attention to their babies. Baby cams are also absurdly failure-prone and notoriously hackable.
Fast forward to 2018, and the argument over whether to use a baby cam has expanded considerably. These days, it’s all too easy to track your child’s every move with smartphone features like Find My Friends on iOS or even special tracking devices. You can also cover every inch of your home with wireless cameras and motion sensors for just a few hundred quid, so that you actually never have to watching your children. If you want, you can give them an Apple Watch and spend your days staring at their heartbeat. Most of these tools and features also let you talk to your kids with the push of a button. So, whether they like it or not, your voice can always be in their head.
Nobody knows how these new parenting tools will work in the long run or the damage they might cause. After all, like birds, young humans sometimes eventually have to leave the nest and learn to fly on their own, likely without a safety net. So you have to wonder who these always-on cameras and intercoms help most: the unsuspecting kids or the anxious, overbearing parents.
Looking back at that prom night video and the idea of parenting by doorbell, it seems clear. Kids don’t want to talk to hunks of plastic on the wall that look like HAL 9000. They want to talk to their parents, in real life. Teens also don’t want to be watched at all times. Did you, when you were that age?
Our newly connected world is wonderful for a lot of reasons. Everybody agrees that it’s cool as hell to have the internet in your pocket at all times. That doesn’t mean you need to be online all the time, though. And it certainly doesn’t mean we should be spying on our loved ones, just because we can. Let’s keep talking to each other without an intermediary, like a doorbell. After all, we’re still human, regardless of how futuristic our gadgets have become.