Brilliant post from Dan Lockton on the design problems of making smart meters usable and useful.

In a sense, it relates to this post at the RSA’s Social Brain about “the dark side of “nudge””; of course, the downside of all these neat ideas about adjusting people’s decision processes into ones that are more rational, or at least less harmful, isn’t a sinisterly hyperefficient world where all troublesome individuality has been, blah, blah, but instead a world of undermaintained, malfunctioning good intentions.

In science-fiction terms, rather than a space-opera dystopia, it’s a New Wave one we’ve got to watch; all greasy handrails, important safety devices rigged to stop them making a noise, and infinite reserves of bitterness and resentment. From Dan’s scenario-planning:

The display is still there on the fridge door, but when the batteries powering the display run out, and it goes blank, no-one notices.

Quite; like the indefinitely deferred maintenance that tends to kill modern buildings. In fact, what that snippet reminded me of was democracy.


  1. Re: smart meters, it seems to me it’s all about social control – governmentality at the level of the household. The meters would be ideal for anyone who wanted another means of exerting control over themselves – or over the rest of the household. Those of us who don’t get a kick out of either discipline or self-discipline will just want to switch the damn things off (or park them under the stairs).

    In behaviour modification terms, it’s surely the reverse of the “nudge” – it’s sticking information in people’s faces & demanding that they make a decision on that basis, with the aim of evoking compliant patterns of decision-making in the user (or, at least, in the bossiest member of the household). Not so much a nudge as a nag.

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