"Digital homes" raise design issues

The prospect of the "digital home" raises aspects of home design, family relationships and human sociology over larger communities, which reach far beyond the nitty-gritty questions of installing hubs and running wires.

The prospect of the “digital home” raises aspects of home design, family relationships and human sociology over larger communities, which reach far beyond the nitty-gritty questions of installing hubs and running wires through holes in the wall.

This is the view of architect Ian Athfield and communications consultant Richard Naylor (formerly CIO of the Wellington City Council). They spoke at a breakfast seminar held by the 2020 Trust in Wellington yesterday.

Personal computers and communications are changing concepts of how people function individually, relate to their families and to their communities, Athfield says.

An individual using his/her PC is still a very personal thing, and there will be demand for more private spaces in houses alongside the public areas used, for example, for eating as a family or watching TV.

The idea that the PC, Internet appliance and TV will be one and the same thing is simplistic, he says, as they demand a different environment for their use.

It is easy to say when wiring up a house for digital traffic, “let’s have a network connection in every room”, says Athfield; but there are likely to be some rooms that you would want kept clear of individuals networking to the world and preserve them for families.

The individual may accumulate knowledge from interaction through technology, but will still need face-to-face contact, most often in public places, to share and validate that technology.

The suburbs will “dry out”, he says; as people want to come into towns to be able to meet conveniently with others who share their new-found knowledge.

The dream of a 10-acre block in the country connected by the Internet to the world comes up against some harsh realities, Athfield says.

“Those lifestyle blocks account for a large budget of sales of security equipment.”

The "haves" living in isolation fear the "have-nots".

“Communities will tighten and edges will become important."

We need to know how to "rebuild our cities" and other communities to take account of that.

If people are to live in isolation or commune only with like-minded individuals, we have to develop a society with ways of protecting the elderly, the young and the other “have-nots” in society.

“Fortunately technology will help us do this,” he says.

On the nitty-gritty front, domestic cabling cannot afford the same flexibility as office cabling with its ready adaptability built in, says Naylor.

Structure of a wired network in the home needs to be carefully thought about, and/or some of the principles of commercial building wiring transferred to the home front.

On the positive side, there is nothing under the deregulated telecommunications environment to stop a home-user laying cable – even including a neighbour’s house, as Naylor has.

But against that is the relative scarceness of technical expertise readily available to the home user.

Looming as a potential solution to all this is wireless, with relatively simple-to-install and movable equipment, and no cable relaying as needs change.

Naylor has wired up his own home – and the neighbour's – with a server in his garage, “but I’m an engineer by background”, he says.

There will be a need for home service people to cater for such a need, as plumbers and electricians do.

Faced with limitations on bandwidth to the house, and ADSL charges by volume of traffic, family rules, and even hard protection measures like internal firewalls, might have to be devised to prevent some members of the family (typically teenagers) from hogging the capacity playing CDs over the Net.

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