Over at Front Porch Republic, David Walbert wrote about rituals of embodiedness – prompted by his new coffee mill:
I admit I don’t much care who writes the protocols for the ways I interact with my home, nor whether I have a choice of two or five or ten such protocols. What I care about is that, if my home is “smart,” the guy writing those protocols isn’t me. What I object to is the very idea of protocols. More fundamentally, in fact, I object to this whole business of “talking with our stuff.” I prefer not to talk with my stuff at all. I think it’s a decent rule of thumb that one ought to communicate with physical objects via physical means, and with conscious, spiritual, verbally aware beings via conscious, spiritual, verbal means. It then follows that, for example, I ought not communicate with my neighbor by whacking him on the head with a stick, and I ought not try to hold a conversation with my refrigerator. Dogs and chickens fall somewhere in the middle, I suppose, but refrigerators do not. Refrigerators fall squarely into the category of things that should shut up and let me do the thinking.
I say this not because I want effortless obedience from physical objects but because I believe there is value in the physical interaction itself: we are embodied beings, and we think not only with our minds or brains but with our hands and our whole bodies. Heidigger was onto something when he argued that we understand reality first though physical interaction, that “the nearest kind of association is not mere perceptual cognition, but, rather, a handling, using, and taking care of things which has its own kind of ‘knowledge.’” Of course the physical means by which we communicate with physical reality have grown increasingly attenuated over the past century or two, and it’s hard to draw a bright line between turning a dial on a thermostat and swiping at a simulated dial on an iPhone. Few people understand how either works, and even those of us who understand thermostats couldn’t fix our own if it broke. It’s a far cry from pulling your chair closer to the fire. Whether it’s central heating or the App Store, we trade control for convenience. We just want our stuff to work, which means that we want it to do what we want it to do, when we want it done.