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.

The hidden energy cost of smart homes

This week we teamed up with some UK researchers from the Dynamics of Energy, Mobility and Demand (DEMAND) Centre to talk about the ‘hidden’ energy cost of smart homes.

Our research is already showing that there is more than meets the eye when it comes to smart home and ‘the internet of things’ (IOT) energy-saving claims. In this article for The Conversation we identify three areas where smart homes and IoT might increase energy demand. The exact impacts are still unknown, but our point is that we need to start paying attention to areas which are normally overlooked in claims about how connected devices can save households energy.

As our research project progresses, we’ll be thinking and writing about ways in which the industry and other interested parties can start to counteract some of these potential trends. We’re also exploring how these issues play out in Australian households who are making use of smart technologies.

Creating pleasance: new needs for the smart home

Our content analysis of smart home magazine and online articles has revealed how home automation proponents are advocating the pursuit of ‘one touch’ systems intended to deliver energy-efficient ‘pleasance’. This ‘fundamental feeling’ involves an electrically-enabled and automated aesthetic and sensory experience intended to deliver ‘comfort, romance and peace of mind’ to the home (Lutron 2015).

In this talk for the Dynamics of Energy Mobility and Energy Demand (DEMAND) at Lancaster University I discuss what the implications of this vision are for energy demand and household labour. I argue that pleasance has the potential to shift the boundaries of everyday practices to include more home automation devices. Pleasance is intended to permeate within and beyond the home to create ‘whole-of-property’ experiences, and can now be controlled from anywhere in the world. It may also generate ‘more work for father’ through additional programming and technology household labour. The pursuit of pleasance could create new demands for energy which are currently masked by the energy-efficiency gaze of home automation technologies and associated promotional materials.

Download the presentation slides here.

Is the smart home designed for men?

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We’ve been busy analysing magazine and online articles this year on the ’21st Century smart home’ to understand what visions and ideas are being promoted. One thing we didn’t expect was some of the ways in which this vision is gendered.

This week we’ve been in Cairns at the Australian Sociological Association (TASA) annual conference discussing how the smart home is promoted to men.

We wrote about our research here: https://theconversation.com/smart-homes-promise-to-end-the-wife-drought-but-where-do-women-fit-in-50976

And talked about it here: http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/rnafternoons/smart-homes-for-whom/6977600

We are still looking for households to talk to us about their experiences living in a smart home or using automated appliances. If you’re interested, please get in touch!

PhD candidate sought for research on the smart home and Internet of Things

Are you interested in understanding how smart homes, automated devices and the Internet of (household) things are changing ways of life? We are seeking a PhD candidate to join an Australian Research Council social science research project on Automating the Smart Home at RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia. The project is based in the school of Global Urban and Social Studies. Applicants with a background in social science disciplines are encouraged to apply.

Prospective candidates are invited to address or adapt one or more of the following research questions in their proposal:

  •  How are new smart home applications (on smart phones/ devices etc.) changing household practices and expectations?
  • How is the Internet of Things changing the spatial and temporal configuration of home/ work/ leisure practices?
  • The Internet of Things has been described as the next technology ‘revolution’? How does it compare to the mid-20th Century industrial revolution of the home?
  • How are expectations of comfort, convenience, cleanliness, entertainment or security changing in relation to new smart home technologies?
  • How do the smart home visions imagine and promote future lifestyles? Are these sustainable/ unsustainable?
  • (How) are smart home technologies gendered, and what does this mean for the visions and practices that emerge through their development?

Applicants can focus on the smart home as a broad category, or on a specific smart home appliance/ devices, such as automated vacuum cleaners, air-conditioners, smart home ‘control centres’ or lighting systems. Applications that incorporate international or cross-cultural comparisons are also welcome. There is scope for applicants to develop a project that aligns closely with their interests.

The successful candidate will work alongside Yolande Strengers and Larissa Nicholls in the Beyond Behaviour Change Research Program (http://www.rmit.edu.au/research/urban/beyondbehaviour), Centre for Urban Research, School of Global Urban and Social Studies. Applicants are strongly encouraged to discuss their application with Yolande (yolande.strengersATrmit.edu.au)  prior to submission through the RMIT application process.

Applicants must hold an undergraduate degree with First Class Honours or equivalent in Sociology, Geography or a related humanities/ social science discipline.

For more information on how to apply and the conditions of the scholarships see:
Local students: URL: http://www1.rmit.edu.au/scholarships/rps
International students: URL: http://www1.rmit.edu.au/scholarships/rpis

Interested applicants will need to submit their application to RMIT University by 30 October 2015 (http://www.rmit.edu.au/research/phds-and-other-research-degrees/how-to-apply/)

Talk to us about your experiences living in a smart home or using automated appliances!

Do you live in a ‘smart’ home or use automated/ smart home appliances? Want to talk about your experience?

We are conducting a project about smart homes and automated appliances (e.g. smart thermostat, automated lighting, smart fridge, robotic vacuum cleaners etc.)

We are looking for householders across Australia for our social study of smart homes. We are interested in talking with you about how your household uses automated appliances, and/or what it’s like to live in a smart house.

We would like to visit to your home where we will ask you to show us around and demonstrate any smart technologies. We will ask you about your experiences with smart appliances/ homes, and take some photos. The visit will take up to 2 hours and can involve as many household members as possible. All data can be anonymised to ensure privacy if you wish.

Each household will receive a $50 Coles/ Myer gift voucher to thank them for their participation in the project.

If you think you might be interested in participating we encourage you to get in touch. Please contact Yolande (yolande.strengers@rmit.edu.au) or  Larissa (Larissa.nicholls@rmit.edu.au).

Stay-at-home pets could change future energy scenarios

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Automated devices, smart techs and the tantalising Internet of Things are the lens through which many are seeking to envisage our future. But what would happen if we cast the net wider, to consider what everyday life might look like in 30+ years time, rather than pondering what technologies we might be using? I explore such questions in this article for the ClimateSpectatorconsidering what the future might look like if comfort-loving pets stay-at-home during the day.

Outstanding PhD Candidate sought for unique scholarship opportunity

An outstanding PhD candidate is sought to join an Australian Research Council social science research project on ‘automating the smart home’ based at RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia.  The successful candidate will work alongside Dr Yolande Strengers in the Beyond Behaviour Change Research Program, based in the Centre for Urban Research and the School of Global Urban and Social Studies.

The project aims to understand how home automation technologies are being incorporated into household practices, what expectations they are promoting, sustaining or transforming, and how these will likely support or undermine electricity demand reduction ambitions. The findings will inform theories of social practices, materiality and socio-technical change, and provide internationally-significant insights to energy services stakeholders.

Prospective candidates are invited to address or adapt one or more of the following research questions in their proposal:

  •  How do different home automation/ smart home companies imagine the future and how are they shaping ways of life in intended and unintended ways?
  • How are new smart home applications (on smart phones/ devices) changing household practices and expectations of comfort, cleanliness, security, entertainment and/or ambience?
  • (How) are smart home technologies gendered, and what does this mean for the visions and practices that emerge through their development?
  • How can we theorise home automation in everyday life?

Applicants can focus on the smart home as a broad category, or on specific smart home appliances/ devices, such as automated vacuum cleaners, air-conditioners, smart home ‘control centres’ or lighting systems.

There is scope for applicants to develop a project that aligns closely with their interests.

Applicants are strongly encouraged to discuss their application with Yolande Strengers (yolande.strengersATrmit.edu.au)  prior to submission through the RMIT application process.

Applicants must hold an undergraduate degree with First Class Honours or equivalent in Sociology, Geography or a related humanities/ social science discipline.

For more information on how to apply and the conditions of the scholarships see:
Local students: URL: http://www1.rmit.edu.au/scholarships/rps
International students: URL: http://www1.rmit.edu.au/scholarships/rpis

Applications close on 1 May 2015.