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The Next Old Thing

Illustration Spur Design

Getty Images (Gropius)

Getty Images (Gropius)

The Technology: Connected Homes
The Product: HomeChat
The Forebear: Walter Gropius

Walter Gropius, who founded the Bauhaus school in 1919, famously announced, “We want an architecture adapted to our world of machines.” He wasn’t proposing houses with cogs and pistons, but rather that we should ditch the architectural flourishes of old and adopt a more functional approach to building. Still, it seems fair to say that even this die-hard futurist would have had trouble imagining a house in which machines run the show—where, say, the fridge and the bathroom scale conspire to keep the owner’s weight down.

Even today that sounds weird. Yet, while most of us are still getting our heads around the smartphone, manufacturers are readying the smarthome, in which our appliances converse with each other—and with us—to run our lives.

Earlier this year, there was a frenzy of such smart device unveilings, ranging from apps that secure and monitor your home remotely to toothbrushes that snitch to your smartphone if your kid’s hygiene regimen slackens. There are companies finessing smartphone-operated cat doors, and apps that let you run a temperature-controlled bath from your bed.

Perhaps the company most evangelical about turning our homes into the “Internet of Things” is LG, whose new HomeChat service lets people converse via text with their appliances. Fridges can tell owners how many beers they’ve got left, say, or consult with the oven over tonight’s dinner. Washing machines can nag you when you’re out of clean socks.

“The ‘Jetsons’ era is finally here,” says LG spokesman John I. Taylor. He doesn’t mention Gropius, but that’s to be expected. Even the founder of Bauhaus might have balked at the idea of such meddlesome domiciles.

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