Deviceless kitchen

I just realized something while eating breakfast: what happened to the "automated kitchen of the future"? In the sixties and seventies, the great dream of the future was to relieve the women from the kitchen by adding more machines that would do everything. From an automatic bread-slicer to a multi-function refridgerator which can order food when it's out, it was all there. In fact, the trend has been going on for years; with the automatic fridge being the dream of ubiquitous computing geeks for years now.

But what happened? A modern kitchen has a fridge, a microwave oven, a regular oven, a stove, and a couple of different mixers. And we still use lots of regular pots and pans and knives to prepare the food. Nothing fancy, just simple things.

And people are eating out 30% of the time (in the US), double the rate it was 30 years ago. There is not that much need for home automation anymore. In fact, I think there is great value in actually preparing your own food, and taking your time doing it.

Maybe all the dreams about the automated kitchen were created by lonely geeks, who had nobody to cook for them? I have lately grown a bit disillusioned about the whole concept of ubiquitous computing. We already have computers everywhere in the environment - just count the chips! Every single electronic item in your home has a chip of sorts, from the fridge to the vacuum cleaner to the DVD player, and have they made our life easier? They've certainly eased certain robotic work, but they have created other kinds of emotional complexities, from "what shall we watch" to "what is this bloody thing DOING!?!" It's not about making life easier, it's about shifting complexity from one aspect of life to some other aspect.

The cool thing about all that is that thanks to technology, you get to choose in what way to make your life complex, which is more than what the previous generations had. But it's not making your life easier.

People fill their lives with complexity: always trying to do more and more. Maybe it would be time to try and fill your life with simplicity?

Update: Finnish readers are suggested to read Jani's "Fatless Fat", too. Good thinking, as always.


Janne, this is how the unibomber started...

<grin> I have to say I agree. I spent last weekend at a healthy celebrity cooking workshop. The chefs promoted vegan cooking following the McDougall program .

One thing that surprised me was just how much the chefs talked about their craft - the little things that make cooking easier that you do with a knife, a blender or a pan. Techniques were favored over technology. In fact, the only "tech" devices that all the chefs seemed to appreciate were stick-blenders ("boat motors"), food processors, and mandolines (inclined slicers - really just custom knives).

There was little if any talk about technology. And it wasn't because the chefs weren't aware of the devices, they just know that most don't pay off. People in the audience would ask about this or that device and the chefs would just say, "yes, well I use my knife for that..."

If professional chefs can't find a way to work technology into the craft, it's not surprising that your average person can't either.

My biggest use of kitchen technology is that I keep on my recipes and a log of their results on my JSPWiki. When I want to make something, I print out the recipe and use tape to stick it to the cupboard above my cutting board. If the printout gets wet or dirty, I throw it away, if not I save it for next time. If someone is interested in the recipe, they can keep the printout. So in my case, the biggest savings are not from robotics but from being able to keep notes and put together meal plans more efficiently. By keeping notes I save a lot of labor in the kitchen because I don't make the same mistakes everytime I make a recipe.

--ScottHurlbert, 19-Jul-2006

I remember Cory Doctorow speaking about music in the same way: he keeps all his music on his Powerbook, and if he rents a car, he just burns a couple of CD's to play in the stereos. Then he just throws them away, or leaves them in the car.

(But it's glad to see that someone is keeping recipes on a computer: I remember that that was the great promise of the computing age in the 80s, that I and others used to justify getting a computer in the house ;-)

--JanneJalkanen, 19-Jul-2006

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"Main_blogentry_120706_1" last changed on 12-Jul-2006 22:45:33 EEST by JanneJalkanen.