Who hasn’t seen the funny cartoons of fat people sitting in their chairs while everything around them is managed by technology? We all laugh at a thought something like that could actually happen – but aren’t we in many ways a society that already behaves like that?
Just think about it:How often do you go out for dinneror do you get food delivered instead? Or are you already using a smart fridge that analyses the food in your fridge, tells you what you can cook with it, prints you the recipe and times the oven and even orders food that is needed? That new shirt you ordered online suits you very well – but guess what – you got it without leaving your home. How often have you been to the cinema lately or did you watch the latest movies/football match online? I am sure your TV is absolutely fantastic with great sound and it (almost) feels like you are at the match/cinema… without having to face cold and rainy weather or hooligans. Home entertainment is also facilitated by Wii, Xbox or PlayStations. Check out this clip about the Microsoft IllumiRoom: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nGGMv9RnJIA
Safety is another good example: Whether it was the garden fence or technological security systems that we can even control when on the run through our phone, or sensors that help recognize the health of a person living in a house… We are spending more and more time at home – even for work – , constructing our own space, totally controlled, and safe and somewhat isolated from the rest of the world. This trend is called “Cocooning” a trend that was first discussed by Faith Popcorn, a Marketing Consultant in the 1990s.
She defines Cocooning as “the impulse to go inside when it just gets too tough and scary outside. To pull a shell of safety around yourself, so you’re not at the mercy of [the mean and unpredictable] – those harassments and assaults that run the gamut from rude waiters and noise pollution to crack-crime, recession, and AIDS” (California State University, 1995) or in somewhat clearer words: “Cocooning is the act of insulating or hiding oneself from the normal social environment, which may be perceived as distracting, unfriendly, dangerous, or otherwise unwelcome, at least for the present” (Definition Cocooning).
Cocooning can be broken down into three further parts: There is the social cocoon, which is characterized by retreating into the privacy of one’s own home. Secondly, the armoured cocoon, which establishes a barrier to protect oneself from external threats. This can be aligned with the garden fences, security systems or even firewalls. Finally, the wandering cocoon is characterized by a technology isolating you from the environment for example through earphones (Definition Cocooning). There are also combined cocoons, such as the one of armoured and social, through wireless technologies: You are occupied with Facebook while on the go and therewith let selected others into your wandering cocoon.
In her article “Super Cocooning – Cocooning: It’s back and thanks to tech it’s bigger” (2013), Faith Popcorn states that “Cocooning is not a new behaviour. Born out of a mix of fear and fun, it became a trend identified with cold War unease that led to stay-at-home entertainment such as the first home video game systems, rec rooms and the adoption of home swimming pools and trampolines”. Ever since, terror attacks, public shootings, pollution and even immigration are all triggers for such behaviour (Lane and Gorman-Murry, 2011).
Now, one might wonder what all this has to do with Smart Homes.There is an easy answer to that question: Technological progress facilitates such behaviour. The simple facts of using a telephone instead of talking to a person directly, or the smart fridge or pay TV, are good examples.According to a JP Morgan Chase Analysis, consumers where spending 65% more on consumer electronics such as TVs and Tablets in the last quarter of 2012 than in the year before while spending less on hotels or car rentals (Popcorn, 2013). This and the fact that people upgrade their pay TVpackages with about 23% of households paying more than $100 monthly indicate that home entertainment, and staying at home – or cocooning – is rising. This trend is obviously facilitated through falling technology prices which make the products more affordable for the wider public. Another important indicator is the Smart Home market value, that is expected to double until 2018 to $71 billion— up from $33 billion in 2013, and $25 billion in 2012 (Weber, 2014). Through the Smart Home we are able to design our house to our liking, smart heating systems make the house warm and comfortable before we come in, we are woken up by a set alarm and the lights turn on automatically, the fridge tells us what to cook and orders food, and home entertainment is as good as in the outside world. It is a house totally aligned to our individual likings and we have control over it – even when we are not there, which may give a sense of security. We are connected to it and can see what is going on, or turn on a wash even when we are outside through our phone. It is like our own little bubble that we carry around and that isolates us from the outside world. Effectively, it is a way to bring our home with us in a certain way and increase the wandering cocoon, while on the other side decreasing the necessity even further to even leave the house – That’s super cocooning of the 21st century.
Cocooning also has a very interesting effect on our economy. While Hollywood responded to the trend by bringing movies quicker into pay TV (Popcorn, 2013), it is noticeable that certain industries do not suffer under extreme economic downturns during crisis. Industries like that include: furniture, chocolate and home appliances. Companies such as Lindt (chocolates) or LOEWE (premium TVs and multi room solutions) stated in 2009 that they accounted for increased revenues during the economic downturn of the previous years(Haslauer, 2009), as they are the kind of products you buy to increase the homeliness of your house – a great indicator for cocooning.
Now as can be noticed, people like to create a safe environment: their home, a place that is reflective of an individual’s identity to create a sense of difference between the public and private domain (Guihen, 2013). While home technology can facilitate much of this identity and make the home place more homely, it also comes with certain implications for Smart Home use. For example, the sensors used may be unacceptable for individuals living in the house as they may be received as taking away part of the control. “It is important that Smart Home technologies and home modifications do not erode the sense of identity of the home environment. However, they must also find a balance between providing the distinction of the public and private space, while not making the resident feel like they are closed off from society” (Guihen, 2013:39). Especially the last notion of being “closed off from society” is a very severe problem that may be caused by cocooning and be facilitated through technology. You may remember I had already mentioned this problem in my last blog “Big Brother is Watching You”. While Smart Home technology may increase the ability of isolated people through increased connectedness (communication technologies, etc) it should not become a substitute for face-to-face contact and further worsen social isolation, which is aligned with several health implication such as and increased possibility of dementia especially in later ages (Guihen, 2013). As Michael Greeson of The Diffusion Group puts it: “With all the information and entertainment at arm’s reach at home, why get out and meet up with a friend when you can chat on Facebook? Why go shopping for a book at Barnes Noble when you can search through a virtually unlimited bookstore like Amazon and never leave your couch?” (Popcorn, 2013).
I think it is important for us to consider the implications of cocooning in combination with Smart Homes on our social interactions. Who want to end up like our two friends in the picture – seeing through screens and isolated from the real world and trapped in our own little bubble? Cocooning to a certain extent may be to our liking and Smart Homes can certainly be to our benefits – but it is important to get the balance right J
California State University, 1995, ‘Cocooning – Future Lifestyle’, accessed: 02.03.2014, available at: http://www.reocities.com/MadisonAvenue/9998/papers/cocooning.htm
Definition Cocooning: accessed: 01.03.2014, available at http://searchsecurity.techtarget.com/definition/cocooning
Guihen, B., 2013, ‘Human Issues related to housing design for elderly and Smart Homes‘, Value Ageing, accessed: 02.03.2014, available at: http://www.valueageing.eu/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/07AGE03_D3.5_FINAL.pdf
Haslauer, 2009, ‘Cocooning: Daheimistesdoch am schöneste’, Focus-Money, accessed: 03.03.2014, availbale at: http://www.focus.de/finanzen/boerse/cocooning-daheim-ist-es-doch-am-schoensten_aid_372062.html
Lane, R. and Goreman-Murray, A., 2011, ‘Material Geographies of Household Sustainability’, Ashgate Publishing Ltd., accessed: 01.03.2014, available at:http://books.google.ie/books?hl=de&lr=&id=DFNggKbX99IC&oi=fnd&pg=PA35&dq=cocooning+and+technology&ots=U_UJNcV2Lx&sig=UZty-NveyYOysgXeGyAkmyQqQoI&redir_esc=y#v=onepage&q=cocooning%20and%20technology&f=false
Popcorn, F., 2013. ‘Super Cocooning – Cocooning: It’s back and thanks to tech, it’s bigger’, Faith Popcorn’s Brain Reserve, accessed: 02.03.2014, available at: http://www.faithpopcorn.com/super-cocooning/