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Does Your Fork or Toothbrush Talk to You?

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Last week I read the most amazing article about how the latest International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas has been featuring all kinds of smart devices which can track users' behavior. ("Smarter Devices Can Track Users' Behavior" by Benny Evangelista.) And these devices aren't just the kinds of spy equipment which you can pop on the walls, under furniture, or in olives in drinks.

No, these new devices even include kitchen and bathroom appliances that you use everyday. One that I found most fascinating is the Hapifork fork Hong Kong's Hapilabs, which has a sensor that registers the rate at which you are eating food. If it thinks you're eating too quickly, it will vibrate to remind you to slow down. What's too fast? Well, it's set so you can take another bite more quickly than every 10 seconds, and you can change it to slow down. So if you are in a food race, you can set it to eat even more quickly before it vibrates. But then, that might defeat the purpose of the fork, which is designed to help people eat more slowly, so they chew their food very well. In fact, one purpose of this slow-down is losing weight, since according to a 2006 U.S. study people who eat more slowly eat 11 percent fewer calories. And in case you like to keep track of your progress, the Hapifork will send the data about how fast you are eating each day to a mobile phone app.

Now I don't know about you, but I'm not really sure I want my fork telling me these things by vibrating while I'm trying to enjoy my meal -- though if you want such a fork, the company is planning a February Kickstarter campaign, and if all goes well, you can add a fork -- or set of them -- to your kitchen a few months after that. They'll sell for $99 each.

Then there's the talking -- or perhaps more accurately, buzzing -- Bluetooth toothbrush from Beam Technologies in Louisville, Kentucky. This toothbrush is also fitted with a sensor which will tell you how long you are brushing your teeth, and in case you want to keep a daily record, it will send the data to a website and an iPhone or Android app. The purpose of buzzing brush is to keep people to their goal of brushing for two minutes twice a day, since most people don't actually do so. Supposedly, ordinary electronic toothbrushes are set up so you meet that two-minute goal if you keep brushing on each quadrant of your mouth for 30 seconds, since there is a brief pause to let you know it is time to move on to the next quadrant, and at the end of two minute it stops. But apparently, this isn't good enough to keep you brushing the whole time. So with this Bluetooth toothbrush, you get not only a buzz, but you can track if you have met your goal on the Internet or your favorite mobile device -- and I suppose you could even spread this information on to Facebook, too. Again, I'm not sure I really want my toothbrush tracking my behavior like this, but if you do, the brush will only set you back $50.

Anyway, as I thought about these latest smart devices for the kitchen and bathroom, the lines from the noted Mother Goose "Hey Diddle Diddle" nursery rhyme, "And the fork ran away with the spoon" kept running through my head -- although more accurately, it's the dish and the spoon that ran off together. But no matter. I had visions of talking and sensing forks and spoons making a connection. And why not? Maybe what's next are sensitive spoons that can tell you how fast you are eating your pudding, jello, or ice cream. And then knives might let you know if you are cutting your steak or hot dogs in an expeditious way. In fact, soon all the cutlery, pots, pans, and dishes could have built in sensors, so you can chart everything you wanted to know -- or didn't -- about how you are eating. And then, of course, you can compare yourself with others who are similarly outfitted with sensing forks, knives, pots, pans, and dishes running away with spoons.

As for the talking toothbrushes, well, why stop there? Why not outfit everything you use in your bathroom with sensors from the faucets in your sink, shower, and bathtub to the handle on your toilet and the door of your mirror. And who knows, maybe the drugstore will start selling bottles of pills and nasal spray that will vibrate when you aren't taking them enough and send a record to your website and iPhone each time you pop a pill or dispense a spray.

In short, we could be in for more and more sensing and talking devices in our lives. But I'm not sure I want my fork, toothbrush, and other everyday utensils and equipment talking to me. I really value living in an environment that's quiet, peaceful, and restful, and somehow I imagine all of these sensing devices like little kids or puppies who are all jostling and yapping for attention. And I'm not sure I want every little daily activity recorded somewhere and even shared with hundreds if not thousands of fans, friends, and connections all over the Internet. I have enough trouble just keeping my checkbook straight and totaling up figures for my taxes. I don't want to start counting up all my fork motions and toothbrush brushes, or the movements of all the other utensils and appliances in my life.

Gini Graham Scott, Ph.D. is the author of over 50 books with major publishers and has published 30 books through her own company Changemakers Publishing and Writing . She writes books and proposals for clients, and has written and produced over 50 short videos through her company Changemakers Productions. Her latest books include: The Very Next New Thing: Commentaries on the Latest Developments that Will Be Changing Your Life, Living in Limbo: From the End to New Beginnings, and Want It, See It, Get It: Visualize Your Way to Success.

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