New paper on convenience and energy consumption in the smart home

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Making everyday life more convenient has been a long-running concern in consumer marketing. Appliance manufacturers, utility providers and home designers have sought to position their products and services as ways to make life easier and save time. The smart home is no exception in its ambition for easier living achieved through digital consumerism. At the crux of this idea is the enrolment of internet-enabled devices and appliances in the creation of an even more convenient lifestyle. Smart home advocates suggest that an important side benefit of this more time-efficient lifestyle is more energy-efficient consumption, achieved through a process of simplifying and streamlining everyday tasks.

In our latest paper published in Energy Research and Social Science, we examine the convenience narrative underpinning smart home visions, considering how it is conceptualised and articulated by industry proponents. Drawing on our international content analysis of smart home magazine and online articles, and interviews with Australian smart home industry professionals, the paper shows how convenience is intended to simplify home life and create an aesthetic experience known as ‘pleasance’ (coined by home automation company Lutron). This concept depicts a desirable way of life that positions the home as a site of luxury, comfort and relaxation, in which simple switches, automated ‘scenes’ and ‘one touch’ solutions are expected to alter ambience and mood.

However, rather than freeing up time, we suggest that convenient pleasance can generate further complexity and labour in the home, by involving the management, use and integration of new technologies and devices. It can also legitimise opportunities for smart technologies to increase household energy demand, through the promotion of new lifestyle expectations,

Our analysis provides a platform to question and potentially disrupt dominant narratives and visions underpinning ambitions for the smart home. We suggest an approach which involves reimagining and rearticulating what pleasance is – that is, what we should be aspiring to as a desirable way of life. This recognises that visions of the ‘good life’ fundamentally shape the social practices people perform in their homes and come to expect as ‘normal’.

The paper is available for download here.

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