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May 22, 2011 / Robert Ross

keeping it simple….


“Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.”

Leonardo da Vinci

Every now and again, I am asked about “smart house” technology. It is a discussion I’ve followed through the years, sometimes with interest, sometimes with amusement. I had a client in the early 90’s smartwire his entire house, only to discover that everything got blown every time the power went out.  This was more than minor irritation for a house on a point in a lake! I have another client, and friend, who must have every cutting edge computer gadget that comes on the market. He has probably spent multiple times the value of the equipment on technicians to come in and straighten it out after his wife or kids have tried to watch TV.

When faced with cutting edge technology, my typical response has distilled down to the time honored, Keep It Simple Stupid.

Most technology these days seems to have a 2 year life cycle.  From computers to smart phones, our lives are being forever shifted by technology. 3G phone technology has been replaced by 4G, although my sources are claiming that a marketing gimmick. In the 1970’s call waiting was cutting edge technology and the evening’s entertainment was a decision based on what the big 3 networks were offering. PBS was typically a snowy mess. Cable replaced the antenna and offered a few additional choices with the advantage of clear reception. Other options have since emerged. Satellite dishes and even a phone line option. I had to laugh at BellSouth’s offering. They offered a receiver based television experience if you had a clear line of sight between your receiver and the transmitter. My neighborhood is located in a valley with a mature tree canopy. Needless to say we didn’t sign up. That service didn’t survive past the roll-out.

Keeping it simple doesn’t mean that technology is a bad thing. Everything can be improved upon. It simply means that things permanently installed in a home should have a 20-30 year life expectancy. Look at the shift that has occurred with flat screen technology. Clunky, armoire type entertainment centers are now obsolete. The new rectangular format rarely fits and people prefer having the space back. Some new clients looking at doing an attic conversion originally asked that the layout respect their investment in a large entertainment center. Unfortunately it was located in the wrong place and 15 years old.  I asked them why they wanted to hamper the new layout by maintaining an emotional attachment to a cabinet housing technological fossils? I was willing to accept the challenge, but had to ask the question. When I went back to measure, that constraint had been removed. Keeping it simple means maintaining long term flexibility.

Today we all suffer from C.O.S. (Choice Overload Syndrome). The internet allows us to do more research on more things. It unfortunately often provides only a partial picture. A client will say they found a great deal on an expensive toilet only to find out on arrival that they have to add the seat, flush lever, fittings etc….New technologies are often described in glowing terms, but have very little practical data to back them up. Glass protected solar panels probably aren’t the wisest option in an area prone to hail damage. The new photovoltaic skins are intriguing, but how do they hold up to acid rain? How easy is it to replace that new triple pane glass window? By applying their experience and asking these types of questions, architects and designers can help a client navigate the minefield of choices involved in a construction project.

For me the ultimate luxury is simply turning it off. I enjoy all forms of media, but get great pleasure in sitting in silence and watching the magic created by the play of light on trees. I am getting closer perhaps to purchasing that iPad, but have yet to see it as something other than a very expensive toy. I like the idea of reading a book on a back lit pad but am concerned that it might break when it falls to floor as I doze off. When faced with these decisions, I apply a new filter. It would allow me to accomplish x,y,or z, but what is the actual possibility that I would take advantage of that possibility and actually do x,y, or z.

But then again, who would have thought I would be blogging!

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3 Comments

Leave a Comment
  1. jeff / May 22 2011 8:33 am

    So true, Robert…….it’s amazing what we DON’T need…………….

  2. Paula Ponath / Jun 18 2011 3:29 pm

    This a great! and so true as I’m waiting for my Zune to return from it’s second trip to Microsoft’s repair facility in 2 years. All I use it for is to listen to books. I can’t recall a single time a BOOK had to go to a tech support/repair center. But then a book doesn’t talk to me.

    • Robert Ross / Jun 21 2011 8:08 am

      Thanks for your comments Paula! I look forward to you being here.

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