The American kitchen is quickly becoming a frightening place. For now, the kitchen is where many families gather for meaningful conversations over a meal. In the future (by future I mean like, I don’t know, probably tomorrow) it will be where we are all spied on in the name of convenience.
Among the new gadgets highlighted at CES 2019, a Las Vegas trade show that kicks off this week, are smart ovens that will help plan your recipes, smart refrigerators that will remind you when you run out of milk, and smart water faucets that will regulate how much water you use depending on the recipe.
I miss the days when kitchens weren’t so smart. It’s not that they were dumb. They were just simpler.
My grandmother’s kitchen was small. There was nothing trendy about it. It wasn’t French country, like so many of the kitchens I see on home improvement shows. It was just country. Fort Valley, Georgia country, to be more precise.
That kitchen had an oven, a sink, a refrigerator, and a pantry. Eventually, my grandmother broke down and got a microwave oven. I’m sure that she felt like the communists had won when she gave in and took up her counter space with one of those.
My grandparents didn’t need any computers to plan out their recipes or eating schedules. They took care of that just fine by themselves, thank you very much. Breakfast was every morning at what seemed like 6:00. It was always eggs, bacon, and sausage. Lunch was usually between 11 and 12, coinciding with the airing of The Price is Right and the local news on channel 13. We were always done in time for my grandmother to watch her stories. Stories, for the unrefined among you, are otherwise knowns as soap operas. My grandmother’s story of choice was The Young and the Restless.
At 2:00 we had something called recess. It was basically just an excuse to eat snacks. Dinner came at around 5 or 6. It was a big spread where everything was homemade. Always. And finally, later each night, we had another recess.
No artificial intelligence required.
Things were even simpler with my mom at our house. She was a single-parent and worked a lot so there wasn’t time for such a spread every day. Our breakfast consisted of cereal. Lunch was fish sticks and tater tots, Beanie Weenies or, my personal latchkey childhood favorite—the ketchup sandwich. For dinner my mom would sometimes make something she called Coca-Cola Chicken. To make Coca-Cola Chicken, one simply puts some chicken breasts into a baking dish, rubs mustard and ketchup all over it pours a can of Coke in the baking dish, and lets the oven do the rest for a few minutes.
Can you imagine what a smart oven would do if you asked it to make you some Coca-Cola Chicken? There are a couple of options. First, it could break. Second, and I believe most likely, it would team up with Siri and Alexa to rat you out to your health insurance provider who would then have the government shut down your oven until you took animal sensitivity training and agreed to convert to veganism.
We probably won’t have a choice later on, but while I still can I’m avoiding the smart kitchen. Maybe meal prep will take a little longer and I’m almost certain to add too much water to a recipe or burn something in the oven.
So be it.
It’s a small price to pay in order to keep the good people at Maytag, Samsung, and the United States government from listening in on the conversations my family has at the dinner table. Remember, if your refrigerator is smart enough to know when you’re out of eggs, it’s smart enough to do other things too or, at the very least, be used by folks who could not possibly care less about your privacy.
The kitchens that my grandmother and mother used never were in style. That’s okay because they are where some of my best conversations took place and most important lessons were learned. And I hope that my kids can say the same thing about our kitchen. I want our kitchen to be smart, not because of the gadgets inside of it but because of the wisdom and knowledge that was shared at our table over a meal that the Maytag Man knew nothing about.
When it comes to the kitchen, there are things that are more important that convenience.
Privacy is one of them.
And so is simplicity.