It feels like something you’d see in a comedy sketch about how silly the internet of things can be, but it’s real.
GE’s C lightbulbs, which connect to the internet and allow their owners to turn them on and off with an app, have a ridiculous reset process if they fail. For most smart gadgets, there’s usually a reset button you have to hold down, or sometimes you have to hold down the power button for a few seconds to get the device to reset. But as a lightbulb doesn’t really have a power button, GE seems to have decided the best way to reset the bulb is to have the owner learn Morse code:
“We know technology can be complicated and are aware that our current factory reset process isn’t ideal,” a spokesperson for GE told Quartz. “We’re finding simpler methods for our users and appreciate the patience.”
The promise of the smart home is that everything is automated, and the difficult tasks of turning on lights, closing the blinds, turning on the coffee pot, and other mundane tasks are done for you at your command. But in reality, smart-home gadgetry still faces a few hurdles. The setup process alone can drive you to tears. You want to install a Nest thermostat? Have fun learning how to become an electrician.
I recently decided to be exactly the kind of jerk who would subject themselves to an 11-step reset process for a single lightbulb when I installed six Wemo smart plugs in my apartment to control most of the lights. In my defense, there are no ceiling lights in my apartment, so setting up routines to control the lights in every room through a smart speaker seemed useful. But then, I keep pressing light switches that have nothing attached to them.
During the setup process, I had to reset the Wemo plugs roughly 15 times between the six lights—I think only one plug connected to both my wireless network and Apple’s Home app in one try. To this day, one of the plugs refuses to connect, so when I tell Siri to turn on the lights in the living room, only three light up, and I have to go walk over and turn the fourth on manually. It’s been three months and I’ve decided that this is my life now.
When they work, smart home devices can be amazing. I love that I can awkwardly yell through my AirPods to ask Siri to turn on the lights before I walk in the door on my way home. But I also remember the pain of all the failed setup and reset attempts. And the unsuccessful setup attempts of all the smart plugs I gave to my parents as Christmas presents that I told them would “make their lives easier” (because I handled the chore of setting the things up).
There’s an effortlessness to a working smart home that can make you feel for a brief second that you are truly living in the future. But the moment something goes wrong and won’t connect, you begin to weigh all the time you’ve spent fixing spotty wireless connections and janky internet-connected devices against whether getting off your butt to flip on a light switch is really all that difficult.