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How the “smart house” device can bring to a neurosis – on the example of a modified doorbell

Technology, which at first seemed to the American family man a boon, eventually turned his life into a “home horror film.”

A "bell" attached to the front door. Photos of SlashGear
A “bell” attached to the front door. Photos of SlashGear

In May 2017, journalist Evan McGarvey moved with his wife and child from Austin to Dallas, Texas. The family settled in a private house and after a couple of weeks of arrangement thought about safety. The invited expert advised them on a new technology called “Ring”, which, according to the producer, is popular with young couples.

This device is built into the doorbell and allows you to remotely monitor the events at the entrance to the house. When someone approaches the door, the motion sensor triggers, and sends the owner a push notification to the phone. At the same time, the user can open the application at any time and observe what is happening at the entrance with the help of a hidden camera. However, the device, which seemed to McGarvey a successful acquisition, eventually completely repulsed the desire to use it in the long run.

The opportunity to be in two places at once

The manufacturer of “Bell” (owned by Amazon), the price of which varies from 100 to 500 dollars, describes the device as a “video camera of the Silicon Valley era.” McGarvey did not immediately like that the device does not masquerade as a normal doorbell, but looks like a “silver cube, casually and inappropriately mounted in our door frame.” In addition, the journalist did not like the meager selection of ringtones, which could be put on notice.

The attitude of McGarvey changed about a month after the purchase of the “Bell”. In July, he was left alone with the child and waited for the master to fix the washing machine. When a specialist rang the door, the journalist was just changing his son on the second floor and could not get distracted. Help came “Call”: the application displayed an image at the entrance to the phone of McGarvey, he calmly asked the master to wait a few minutes, finished with his son and went down to the door.

And this is how my discomfort disappeared from my life. The dressed-up child on the changing table without any haste and no angry dude who wondered why I could not get to the door for so long. “Bell” gave me a parental gift: the chance to be in two places at once.

Evan McGarvey
journalist

“Bell” has become the best assistant of the family man: he always knew in advance whether the deliverer, the traveling salesman or the neighbor is on the threshold. When the couple hired a nanny for their son and McGarvey started to go to work, he could still follow what was happening at the front door. Over time, the man began to live with technology in almost complete harmony, but then the device worried him.

First, McGarvey was annoyed by the push notification “Your door is fixed motion”, which arose every time the sensor picked up vibrations near the entrance to the house. The journalist did not like the phrase “The movement is fixed”, as if it came from a military dictionary.

The onset of neurosis

With the advent of the autumn, McGarvey’s son got a bad cold, so he had to be taken to the doctor regularly, and then to monitor his condition at night. Parents did not get enough sleep, almost on duty at the crib of his son, and at this time “Bell” continued to send push-notifications about a “movement” at the entrance. McGarvey did not understand: the camera records did not show anything suspicious, but the device never ceased to report suspicious activity.

In an attempt to escape from “life inside a horror film,” the journalist burrowed into the settings of the application. He found that by default the sensor catches and reports all movements within a radius of 10 meters from the entrance door. That is, those night messages the device could send due to some passing cat or a passing passerby.

Another headache came with the function of “neighbors”. Inside the application “Bell” there is a tape, consisting of notifications and short videos from neighbors. For example, if someone sees a suspicious man at his home, he can send his photo describing it to warn the owners of the nearest houses. In addition, the application fixes notices from the police when officers detain a suspect nearby.

Demonstration of the work of “Bell”

As they say on the website of “Bell”, this system helps to protect themselves from robbers and build relationships with neighbors, but for McGarvey the function became a torment. As it turned out, the application added notifications from all users within a radius of four kilometers to the tape. In other words, the journalist was notified of suspicious people from those who lived in completely different neighborhoods. At the same time, there was no special value in the reports, usually users wrote something like: “A man in a sweatshirt passed by at two o’clock in the morning” or “a woman knocked at our door, waited and left.”

After McGarvey reduced the radius of the “neighbors” function, he hoped that the application would return to normal. But then “Bell” began to bombard him with messages from emergency services like police, ambulance or firefighters. The journalist did not understand why he should know about various incidents, if they did not directly touch him, but only happened nearby. As a result, he was in a stalemate: on the one hand, it is unpleasant for him to read about domestic crimes and incidents ten times a day, but on the other hand, curiosity prevents the desire to read all such notifications.

In part, McGarvey regrets that he can not comfortably use the seemingly “smart” device that was supposed to make his life easier. But because of constant anxiety and growing neurosis, he decided to abandon the “Bell”.

After all this, the fucking “Bell” is still near my door. Ridiculous, weakened and brought to the level of a digital eye at the door bell. I constantly tell myself that one day I will tear this device out of our lives with a root and conduct a digital cleaning. But I have not done it yet. “Call” is still there: waiting for a messenger, an accidental child coming from school, or someone who went on a night walk. His unblinking eye in constant search, ready at any time to turn any sign of life into a threat.

Evan McGarvey
journalist 
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