Brita became the latest home goods brand to join Amazon’s automatic ordering program, Dash Replenishment, this week with the announcement of the Infinity Pitcher.
Like other Brita products, the Infinity Pitcher uses activated-charcoal filters that are supposed to be replaced once in a while. Unlike other Brita products, its filter stands a decent chance of actually being replaced, like, once ever. That’s because Infinity connects to Wi-Fi and can be preconfigured with your Amazon account info, so it can order its own refills.
A sensor in the pitcher tracks the amount of water that passes through, and orders a new filter whenever the total approaches Brita’s recommended lifespan of 40 gallons — the assumption being that having a brand-new filter dropped at your doorstep gives you no excuse for forgetting to swap the old one out.
Whether that actually works, we’ll have to wait and see. It’s not hard to imagine that the well-meaning Brita owners who intended to pick up a new filter during every trip to the grocery store for six years running might be the same as the well-meaning Brita Infinity owners who, six years from now, find themselves with a cupboard full of Dash-ordered filters that they really, seriously intended to swap in. The difference being, of course, that in the second scenario they actually paid for the privilege of being a neglectful user. And that raises some challenging questions.
Dash Replenishment’s set-and-forget model has been creeping into washing machines, soap dispensers, pet feeders, printers and even glucose monitors. It's pitched as the ultimate in consumer convenience. And sure — there’s a certain value in letting device makers build the resupply function right into the hardware and software from day one, at least for stuff you were going to buy anyway.
But technology is never ideologically neutral. Every design choice embodies a perspective that will be reinforced with every user interaction. So maybe we should ask: Whose interests are really being served when we turn over decisions about routine spending to our devices?
No doubt a diabetic never wants to be without supplies for testing her blood sugar levels, and would welcome any tool that protects her health. But in the case of water filters — generally a luxury, not a necessity — is it the forgetful user who benefits most? Or is it Brita and Amazon, which can finally latch onto some of the money that the user had been forgetting to spend?
Whose decision should it be that a water filter “needs” replacing, anyway? How much granularity of control should users have over the decision-making algorithm? Is it enough that users can cancel or modify orders after the pitcher decides to place them, or should they be able to set their own criteria for it to follow?
And crucially, ultimately: How should we feel about any device that encourages us — that enables us — to buy more while thinking less?
Related: Amazon Dash Wand, Sutro
Author: Ted Burnham