On sister site TreeHugger we have a "Just what we needed Dept." to cover ridiculous ideas like the Butter Cutter and the Compubody sock. At first glance, the Fresh.Coffee jar would appear to be as frivolous and unnecessary; it sends a message via Bluetooth to your smartphone when the coffee runs low, and then orders a refill from the Fresh.Coffee company. Really.

But the more I think about it and its implications, the more I like the idea. I don't buy coffee in the store; I have a subscription with Coffeecology, which roasts up fair trade, shade-grown, bird-friendly coffee every week and packs it in returnable mason jars. It's delivered every Thursday by Laurie on her cargo bike. (That's her pictured below.) Sure, it's over the top, but I can certainly say that I buy the greenest coffee you can get anywhere.

My weekly coffee delivery via cargo bike

Here's my weekly coffee delivery (Photo: Lloyd Alter)

The trouble is, I drink slightly less than a jar per week, and it starts piling up. I have to go to the website and manually cancel every fourth delivery to get it back in sync. It's the problem with just about any subscription system: how to truly match the supply to demand. If my coffee jar was connected to my coffee company, Laurie would know exactly how much to haul up the hill automatically. I wonder how many other local green products that people use regularly could benefit from this kind of technology. Perhaps we could see the return of the milkman, now wired to the fridge, so that he knows exactly when and how much to deliver. 

dash button on Amazon

Don't press that button! (Photo: Amazon)

Then again, there's a dark side to this concept, as represented by Amazon Dash. This idea was announced on April Fools' Day, and everyone was certain it was a joke, but Amazon started delivery of the buttons this week. John Dvorak, who has been writing about technology forever, thinks it's a ludicrous idea.

A number of curious and depressing conclusions can be drawn. First, it assumes you are leading a life of banal sameness. You never try anything new. You are also caught up in an existence so hectic you cannot sit down for a minute to shop on Amazon to try new things. You definitely hate going to the store once in a while to buy a box of soap.
I am not so sure. First of all, when it comes to something like laundry detergent, people probably do lead lives of banal sameness; we are creatures of habit. And where I see this technology being great for the guy roasting my beans or for Laurie delivering my coffee, it becomes a whole different thing when it used by the big corporations; it's only a short step from the button to the Tide box that re-orders itself like the coffee jar does.

It's not so warm and fuzzy when the multinationals know what's in my laundry room or medicine cabinet.

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Lloyd Alter ( @lloydalter ) writes about smart (and dumb) tech with a side of design and a dash of boomer angst.