Understanding the Connected Home: Etiquette

This blog post is an excerpt from Understanding the Connected Home, an ongoing exploration on the implications of connectivity on our living spaces. The whole collection is available as a (free) ebook: Understanding the Connected Home: Thoughts on living in tomorrow’s connected home

Being a house guest and host in a connected home will of course in many ways be similar to how humans have socialized for centuries.

But there will also be aspects that are new, or that need to be negotiated. What might that look like?

How to be a good guest

If someone invites you to their connected home, there might be some things for you, as a guest, to consider.

  • Bring a gift. It’s a common practice to bring a bottle of wine, flowers or chocolates for your host. In the connected home, would there be other kinds of acceptable gifts? And with these gifts, how can you respect your hosts preferred level of connectivity, so that they are delighted and not annoyed or upset by your gift.
  • Communicate your connectivity preferences. If someone invites you to dinner, you might tell them in advance what your dietary preferences and needs are. Are you vegetarian? Are you allergic to fish or have a gluten intolerance? In the connected home, we may find that guests will also have to communicate their connectivity preferences. Are you ok with devices knowing your location or transmitting your movements to a third party service? Are you okay with your device connecting to the home system, and what data will it be allowed to share? Knowing these preferences in advance could help avoid awkward situations on arrival (“Sorry, I didn’t know you didn’t want to be tracked!”). Save your host the stress and tell them early.
  • Ask permission before modifying. A good house guest is considerate of the home they are in. They leave the space tidy and they don’t mess with any objects or equipment without permission from the host. The same will likely apply in the connected home. Ask permission before you change the smart thermostat, either actively by pushing a button on the object, or passively by having your preferred settings override the hosts.
  • Leave dirt outside. In many homes, it’s common to take off your shoes when you arrive. This ensures that the dirt from the outside isn’t tracked throughout the house. There might be equivalents to this practice upon entering the connected home. Turn off your personal services that might bring unwanted data or sensors in the home. If you recently had a virus or security breach, let your host know so that they can protect themselves or accept the risk.
  • Understand the house rules. Every home has it’s way of doing things. Objects that belong in certain places, rooms that aren’t intended for guests, times of day when things should be quiet. As a guest, ask your host about the house rules and respect them.

All that said, as a guest, you certainly have some rights or courtesies afforded to you. For example, you should be able to ask the host what monitoring is going on in the home.

How to be a good host

What does etiquette look like from the host’s perspective?

  • Communicate your connectivity preferences. Just like your guests, it’s good for you to communicate your preferences in advance and then again upon arrival as a reminder. This could mean asking for certain kinds of objects or sensors to be turned off or not brought into the home. (We saw this dynamic play out with Google Glass nicely over the last couple of years.) It could be the opposite, and a request for them to bring a certain kind of connectivity because you need it to prepare the meal or heat the home or some other function.
  • Prepare a guest information pack. We’ve all experienced what it’s like to ask someone for the wifi password in their home. You can prepare an info pack in advance or leave one in a prominent location in your home so that your guests have all the access info they need. This could be guest passwords to your home server, instructions for changing the settings on certain objects, or other advice and logins for your connected home.
  • Allow guests to opt-out. That said, it’s always good form to allow your guests to have the option of opting out. Your role is to make them feel comfortable and welcome. If you have different preferences for going about connected spaces, give them a graceful way to not take part.
  • Anticipate needs. It’s an amazing feeling to have a host that provides something even before you realized you needed it. Carry that forward and think of what your guest might want or need during their visit and plan accordingly. This could be food, toiletries, and linens. Or it could providing enough power outlets for them to recharge their devices or lending them the adapters they might need.
  • Brief your guests about the neighborhood. If your guests are visiting from another area, it’s be advisable to let them know about your neighborhood. This includes things like transporation options and local sights, as well as what the connected environment is like. What are the rules and norms of the neighborhood regarding data collection, sensors, tracking and other issues? Should your guests be advised that most shops only accept payments with mobile NFC, or that the data retention laws have changed and that they may want to turn off certain services when they go for a walk? Being knowledgeable about your area and sharing that information will help your guests have a more enjoyable stay.

Other relationships

Of course, there are other relationships and forms of social interaction in the connected home.

The guest and host relationship was explored here, but we could also think through what it’s like to be a good co-inhabitant, a good neighbor, or a good landlord in a connected home.

Key takeaways: hosting is same, but different

Much of what made for a good guest/host relationship will likely remain unchanged: being respectful, politely communicating needs and preferences, being gracious and considerate.

Nevertheless, the connected home will pose new ways we’ll have to navigate these interactions. This will especially be the case for interactions that are not overt, but rather happening passively, for example among our devices and services.

Further reading

How to Be the Perfect Host in the 21st Century by Jason Fitzpatrick

Casa Jasmina: How to be a guest in an open source connected home by Michelle Thorne

This blog post is licensed under Creative Commons (by-nc).