How Many Devices Do We Really Need?

Every day, a new and incredible consumer technology pops into our lives. But somewhere at the intersection of cool and amazing lies a simple yet powerful truth: Most of today’s gadgets, gizmos and devices are either frivolous or incredibly overpriced. They are destined to go … absolutely nowhere.

Nowhere is the evidence more apparent than at the recent Consumer Electronics Show (CES), where hype, hyperbole and pie-in-the-sky ideas met the physics of the real world. This year, everything from automobiles and wearables to nutrient tracking apps and home automation systems garnered attention and accolades.

One popular booth at CES featured the Digitsole, a connected and interactive shoe sole that tracks steps and warms your feet via smartphone controls. It costs $350. While the technology seems pretty nifty, we already have Fitbits and Jawbones that track steps for less than $100. And about the feet warming feature: I must have missed the bulletin about $15 wool socks going out of style.

There’s also the Somabar Robotic Bartender. The smartphone-connected craft cocktail dispenser can mix drinks for only $429. I’ll probably stick with my $10 shaker and $2 measuring cup, thank you. Meanwhile, the Ember coffee and tea mug lets you dial your desired beverage temperature for just $144.

Of course, there were also devices designed to solve nagging household problems, such as what time you switched on your crock pot and when you flicked off your bathroom light. The Sense—for $199—will tell you this and much more.

The company asks, “What is your home telling you?” Frankly, I’m not sure I want to hear my house talking to me, especially if it means receiving an alert or notification every 3 minutes.

I’m already swimming in way too much data. And it seems as though every day I must perform first aid on a device or system—usually at about 15 to 30 minutes a pop. All of this forces me to ponder whether the goal of easier and more convenient necessarily equals better. The accumulation of devices only seems to make life more difficult, complicated and stressful.

Here’s the bottom line: Just because we can invent something and make it work with a smartphone app doesn’t mean we should do so. Way too many of today’s consumer devices are nothing more than a solution in search of a problem.