You can imagine my unease when I learned that my printer is spying on me. 

For so long, I  had remained in ignorance, believing it was just an ordinary printer, its existence utterly reliant on the instructions that I send to it. I had full power over it, I reasoned. The gadget couldn’t do anything at all without my say so. 

My wife broke the alarming news. 

“The printer knows how frequently you use it,” she told me, “When it gets low on ink, it sends that information back to the company so that they can send more.” 

And like that, the technological takeover had begun. 

OK, so my printer is smart, but is it THAT smart? 


Not really. Not when you compare it to some of the brainier gadgets out there: the internet refrigerators with internal cameras and the ability to keep track of contents and expiration dates through RFID technology. 

Or the washer-dryer combos that whisper sweet nothings to one another in the dark, discussing matters of detergent levels and heat settings while you’re off somewhere doing stupid human stuff. 

Or the televisions, microwave ovens and security cameras, all listening for the sound of your voice and the contents of your words with the ever faithful Alexa in cahoots. 

It’s not fantasy anymore. The gadgets, gizmos and contraptions that fill your home have turned intelligent and suddenly we’re in the realm of “The Jetsons,” a Saturday morning cartoon we always thought was so fanciful. 

“We’re getting there,” says Dan Vining, store manager at Agren Appliance in Auburn. “Slowly, but we are getting there.” 

Vining works within an army of this smart technology, spending his days surrounded by refrigerators, microwave ovens and dishwashers, each of which has acquired the ability for near- and long-range communication. 


Sort of, anyway. 

Vining leads me to a stacked washer-combo that gleams under the florescent lights. They don’t look like all that to me. Other than some sleek curves and touch screen controls, they look like the same old appliances I’ve been using for decades.

“The thing with this particular set,” Vining tells me, “is that the washer and dryer can talk to each other.” 

It’s an unnerving thought to me, the idea of appliances communicating back and forth like wartime generals, but Vining assures me that the only strategizing these GE units do pertains to matters of laundry. 

“Based upon your settings and what you have for a load,” he tells me, “it will automatically adjust what settings you should use for the dryer. So when this is done, all you’ve got to do is transfer the clothes and hit start and it already knows what it needs to do.” 

A smart washing machine will also consider what type of load is being washed before it dribbles out the detergent. That alone is a money saver, Vining says, since people tend to use more detergent than they need to.


“So, that’s practical,” Vining says, “and it will actually help pay for the machine over time.”

There are ovens that will monitor the internal temperature of your food and then send alerts to your phone no matter where you happen to be. There are refrigerators that will monitor your inventory, help plan your family meals or show you the contents of your shelves even if you happen to be on the other side of the planet. 

To demonstrate the awesomeness of this technology, Vining whips out his phone, taps at his screen a moment and then shows me the controls to his own fridge on the other side of the bridge in Lewiston. 

“I can open up an app and that’s my fridge at home right now on Montello Street,” he explains. “I can see what the temperature is and I can go ahead and change that temperature. I can see if the ice maker’s on. I can see if the ice maker’s full.” 

Not to be outdone, Eric Agren, head of marketing, opens an app on his own phone so he can access his mini split air conditioning system at his home miles away. 

“I can control my mini split, right from this app,” he says. “I can change the temperature. I can change the swing. I can change the fan.” 


He could do these things if he was in Siberia, too, provided his phone was connected to the internet. When it comes to smart home technology, remote operation is among the top selling points. 

Proponents of the technology say it’s a matter of efficiency. If you can remotely adjust the temperature of your home, turn lights on and off, open or close window treatments or control water flowing through your pipes based on the weather, you’ll consume less energy and thus, save money. 

Remote technology is also pretty handy for the people who need to fix these gadgets when things break. 

“A lot of these products now have near field communication, or NFC,” Agren explains. “There’s a chip in the washing machine that is enabled via Bluetooth. So you take your phone, you go up to the washing machine and it will tell your phone what’s wrong with the product.” 

Once the problem is identified, that information can be forwarded to technicians at the company from which you purchased your appliances. There, the techs can work out precisely what the issue is before sending someone out to make the necessary repairs. 

“And then we can go out the first time with the right part and fix it that much quicker,” says Vining. 



There are plenty of people who remain unimpressed with this kind of smart home technology. They scoff at the idea of talking to their refrigerators or attempting to monitor laundry from halfway across the country. 

“It’s kind of weird,” Agren admits, “the thought of someone starting their machine from Arkansas.” 

A sizable portion of our readers tend to agree. 

“I don’t like inanimate objects to be smarter than I am,” quipped one woman. 

A Sabattus man complained that he was once on an airplane far from home when his dryer sent an alert complaining that he had failed to remove his clothes. 


Others stressed that they don’t need to talk to some stupid oven, thank you very much, they’ll just push the necessary buttons just like in the olden days. 

One by one, though, as they start to take closer looks at the gadgets around them, many of them come to realize that they are in the company of smart technology, after all. 

Nancy Townsend Johnson, of Dixfield, has an Anova Precision Cooker she can operate with her smartphone.  

Joyce A. Purcell has a heating, ventilation and air conditioning system that sends her texts and emails when it needs a new filter or if there’s a communication glitch between her thermostats and app. 

A few readers have the same kind of semi-smart printers that I have, while others have only recently discovered that their washers and dryers can be operated remotely via a phone app. 

It would appear that avoiding smart technology altogether is not going to be a possibility for long. 


“It’s just the way of our world now,” says Vining. 

Agren suggests that the concept of smart homes has been in the works for a long time, and that we’ve really only just begun to scratch the surface. 

“In the late 1990s, there were a few companies that were doing some interesting things,” he says. “Microsoft had a vision for the home-connected stuff. It was super hokey and it didn’t work very well, but they had the vision and you could see where it’s going. Now it’s ubiquitous. It’s everywhere.” 

True that. According to the survey group Statista, 32% of all homes already had some smart home technology by 2018 and more than half of all homes — 53% — will by 2022. The number of smart homes is forecast to grow and surpass the 300 million mark by 2023. 

On this front, David Gideon is a bit of an oddity. The founder and owner of Lewiston-based Building Controls, this is a man who professionally installs security systems for school departments, businesses, medical facilities and the like. Smart technology is his bread and butter. But at the same time, he resists the impulse to get all of his home appliances connected to the internet. 

Gideon himself acknowledges the conflict. 


“We have zero smart appliances in our home,” he says. “No Alexa, Echo, etc. I’m a citizen first and a security guy second, but my privacy comes first. I’m conflicted about these offerings due to the privacy trade-offs. I don’t want Amazon listening to me all day just to process a command to listen to my favorite radio station. 

“I’m still rather old school when it comes to pressing buttons,” Gideon says. “I don’t want to talk to my phone or anything else. I understand full well that the concept of privacy is largely a myth at this point, however I do what I can to maintain my own. I actually prefer knobs to buttons when it comes to appliances — less to go wrong, less to repair, easier to operate. Kind of at odds with what I do, I know, but hey, none of us are one-dimensional, right?” 

Gideon isn’t just being paranoid, as it turns out. While hacks of connected appliances are considered rare, it has happened and the risk remains. A team of hackers a few years ago managed to hack a man’s Samsung smart refrigerator, which enabled them to steal his Google login credentials. 

In California, a woman’s Ring camera system was hacked by a man who used his high-tech break-in mainly to make lewd comments to the lady. 

Robot vacuums have been reported hacked, enabling the hacker to map the layout of the home or to overheat the batteries to possibly cause a fire. 

Experts warn that unsecured devices can provide a hacker with access to your financial information as well as the ability to steal your identity or listen in on your private conversations. 


Is it likely? No. And the experts say that common sense is usually enough to keep things safe. Use strong passwords, they say. Make sure your device firmware is up to date and consider using firewalls and VPNs for an extra layer of security. 

Gideon understands those kinds of risks and avoids them. In fact, the greatest thing about smart technology in his eyes is the power it has to create great security systems, big and small. 

Gideon paints a security scenario and devises a way to use smart technology to keep it under control” 

“Going away for a long weekend to rekindle that old flame that’s now just a soggy ash pile?” he says. “Afraid the kids are going to break into that stash of 10-year-old Scotch while you’re away playing Casanova? Put a miniature wireless sensor on the liquor cabinet door and set up a notification to alert you on your smartphone, but only if the seal is broken Friday through Sunday between 5 p.m. and midnight — no problem!  Want to know when the fridge is opened? The desk drawer? The gun cabinet? The off-limits nightstand? If it moves, we can put a sensor on it, battery powered with batteries that last for 5 to 7 years and a wireless transmission range of over 1 mile. So, go ahead, put a sensor on the shed, the boathouse, the pool gate, the mailbox. What, it’s outdoors and unheated you say? Challenge accepted: Use an outdoor-rated sensor, problem solved.” 


In his profession, Gideon doesn’t tend to deal with people who want smart gadgets merely for the innovative thrill of it. They’ve come to rely on this stuff.


“What we find people are looking for today is the ability to be connected to their home or business remotely by using the tool they already have with them at all times: their smartphone,” he says. “One study found that most people have their smartphone within 18 inches of them at all times, so it becomes natural to use this device for controlling and communicating with just about everything, including your home and business.” 

A large part of his business involves linking alarms with cameras so that the two work together — if an alarm is triggered by some potential security threat, the cameras will jump in to record the action while also sending an alert to your phone. 

“Not enough for you?” Gideon says. “Then add lights, door locks, thermostats and flood sensors that can automatically shut off the water when a leak is detected.”

Gideon is wary of smart tech in the home, but he’s no party pooper. He tends to have fun with the smart technology with which he’s comfortable. He recently automated a solar-powered light string around his fire pit, for instance, in part because it’s convenient and in part simply because he can. 

“The final result required a Z-wave smart light module, a low voltage relay powered from 12 volts coming from my security alarm system and a small programmable timer, all integrated together,” Gideon says. “It works great, although I have ordered an external antenna to improve range.” 

Most lights and cameras around his property are intelligent, turning on at sunrise and shutting down at dusk based on his zip code. His cameras are smart enough to let him know what type of object it has spotted moving around his property. Is it an animal? A person? A car or truck? 


And like the crew at Agren, Gideon appreciates that smart technology provides him with the ability to diagnose a client’s security issues quickly and remotely.

Love it, hate it, try to avoid it. As with newer cars, which as a rule come with so many safety features its hard to keep up with what’s beeping, flashing or buzzing at you, staying away from smart technology completely isn’t going to be easy. Chances are good, in fact, that you’re already keeping company with at least a few gadgets that have turned intelligent behind your back.

Hasn’t the soap dispenser been looking at you funny? Don’t you hear that 12-cup coffeemaker tittering every time you pass? And what about the bathroom scale, the air fryer and the toaster? Could they be part of the takeover, as well?

Most of these things have some kind of control board inside them, Eric Agren tells me, and that means there’s some kind of computer feeding them intelligence. It’s all very surreal.

I’d tell you more, but I’m pretty sure the blender is listening to me.

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