It is well established through many examples that fear, uncertainty, doubt (FUD) and ignorance has a real cost in terms of time, money, relationships, and other aspects of everyday life. One great example that society dealt with for years was the idea that using seat belts would cause you greater injury than not using them. Thousands of people died during the period that this FUD was being spread. While the current FUD on smart metering does not rise to this level, it is based on the same kind of “scientific” foundation as the seat belt myths. The recent compromise decision by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) regarding PG&E's opt out program establishes a very specific cost for Smart Meter FUD - $75 up front and $10 a month.
The good news about this decision is that it puts the direct cost of FUD and ignorance directly on those who could otherwise mitigate it. They have the option to learn and overcome their FUD at any time. It still seems unfortunate that some will spend more time, money and energy complaining about a situation they don't understand rather than taking the time to learn about it from authoritative sources. This is the same kind of enforcement that seat belt laws and tickets were enacted to address.
We can't just blame those who are expressing Smart Meter FUD however. Our industry does have a responsibility to proactively make authoritative information on new technology readily available to the consumers who will use it and in an easy to understand form. Information on new technology needs to clearly articulate the fundamentals of the technology itself, how it compares to older technology, how the technology compares to similar things in other industries, places or situations, what the tangible and intangible benefits are, what the downside is and how those negatives relate to other situations we find ourselves in on a regular basic. None of the key players with the requisite knowledge in our industry have done a good job in this arena - regulators, utilities, vendors, consultants, etc. - let alone in the education system.
Another issue is related to how we respond to those who do exhibit FUD. How far do we go allowing a problem to persist that is readily solved by education and instead coddle those who express FUD? That is a societal question but my common sense tells me that we should avoid coddling as much as possible. Here are some questions I came up with to explore this aspect:
- Can I opt out of receiving public water because I hear it might contain small but legal amounts of carcinogenic substances and instead require the water company to deliver bottled water to my home?
- Can I demand that cell phone makers provide an analog rotary dial on cell phones because I believe that pressing digital buttons causes arthritis (I read it on the Internet so it must be true)?
- Can I opt out of being exposed to television signals and choose to have the entertainers come to my house and perform in person?
- Can I opt out of receiving my phone calls by cellular signal and choose to have a long wire run to my mobile phone with a crew following me everywhere with a spool of wire?
- Can I opt out of breathing public California air because it sometimes looks or smells bad? The option is to mandate the creation of a new California Department of Air Supply to deliver canned air to my home. It would of course be a precisely regulated mix of oxygen/nitrogen with elaborate testing, certification, and penalties for non-compliance - and a department to run it - and a new tax to pay for that!
- Can I opt out of stopping at traffic lights because I hear the color red might cause a seizure or require that stop lights I might be near use orange instead of red?
I hope regulators don't go too far in forcing regulated entities to coddle consumers who have a fear of technology change. The business case tells us that it may be cheaper to coddle a few than fight it on principle. This may be a slippery slope however and doesn't bode well for the prospects of instead focusing on improving education in science and technology to not only make it easier to live in an increasingly technology driven world but to actually contribute to advancing technology forward for the betterment of us all.