“Smart” appliances could one day become more like humans, like a needy toaster that tweets its feelings and colludes with the refrigerator. This isn’t a family movie plot but a real experiment.
Interaction designer Simone Rebaudengo works for Frog in Munich, where his research focuses on exploring relationships between networked objects. Last year his “Addicted Products” project in collaboration with in collaboration with Haque Design Research in London unleashed networks of self-possessed toasters on human “hosts.”
In Rebaudengo‘s experiment, toasters were programmed to want to toast. In a sense they behaved like addicts — tweeting out joy when they got bread, becoming passive-aggressive when other toasters received more attention, and getting the refrigerator to tell the humans to buy new loaves. Unhappy toasters could even attempt suicide.
“Though it’s unlikely that many people would actually want a toaster that acts quite like this, several aspects of the design could easily be incorporated into actual product-sharing systems,” Adele Peters wrote on FastCo.Exist. Rebaudengo’s toaster network is on pause at the moment but the concept recently won best in show for the 2014 Interaction Awards.
Even though I’ve encountered toasters that were tetchy without any personality programming, we could benefit from devices that periodically remind us when they’ve gone unused. Having moved recently, I wish my old cell phone had texted to say “Hey, why not erase my contents and donate me?” If smart appliances can nudge us into energy conservation, they should get us to recycle them wisely, too.
Photo: A toaster that’s happiest when it’s being used. Credit: Simone Rebaudengo.