By now, most people are used to the distraction of cell phones going off during meetings, but last week I was in a meeting that was interrupted three times by the sound of video doorbell chimes. Somewhat embarrassed, the culprits sheepishly pulled out their phones to check who was calling at their front doors. Video doorbells have taken off as one of the latest and most popular additions to the so-called Internet of Things.

The Internet of Things describes the use of internet technology in everyday objects, enabling them to send and receive data. My wife Diane and I used to watch a British science fiction sit-com about the surviving crew of a futuristic mining spaceship called Red Dwarf. Dave Lister, the lowest-ranking crewman and last human alive, owned an artificially intelligent toaster named Talkie. Designed to chat during breakfast, Talkie constantly tried to steer every conversation to the subject of toast, annoying everyone aboard the ship.

Of course, life is stranger than fiction, and in 2017, smart toasters with internet connectivity hit the market. Technology writer Brian Heater said, “Sure, a smart toaster is the epitome of connected appliance ridiculousness, but there’s something to be said for being able to micromanage the level of bread toastedness to such a microscopic level.”

Compared to smart toasters, the video doorbell is eminently practical. Currently, there are a variety of brands on the market, including the: Ring, Nest, Greet, RemoBell, iseeBell, and many others.

Jamie Siminoff invented the Ring video doorbell in 2012. In late 2013, he appeared on the television show Shark Tank, but no one would invest in the Ring. This February, however, Amazon announced that it would acquire Ring for a price in excess of $1 billion.

Perhaps it is not surprising that Amazon purchased the Ring since one of the main uses of video doorbells is to deter the theft of packages. Over 31 percent of Americans have experienced package theft. This number is expected to increase as we buy more products online. Last year, Shorr Packaging reported that among the 50 largest American cities, the most Amazon thefts occurred in San Francisco. Indianapolis ranked 28th on the list and Louisville ranked 31st. The average value of a stolen package was $140 and the police make arrests in less than 10 percent of cases.

USA Today reported that “porch pirates” often steal packages seconds after delivery. Some of them even follow delivery trucks so they can steal parcels as soon as they are deposited. Home burglaries also may be prevented by video doorbells, since over one-third of burglars enter through the front door. According to the FBI, there has been a 27.4 percent decline in burglaries since 2013. Some authorities believe the video doorbell may be one of the reasons for this decrease. A study at the University of North Carolina reported that most professional burglars said the presence of any security system led them to target another home.

In 2015, Ring conducted a study in conjunction with the LAPD. Ring donated their doorbells to 10 percent of the homes in one Los Angeles neighborhood. After seven months, there was a reported 55 percent reduction in home burglaries. Marks Harris, a Seattle-based technology journalist, says, “Apparently, even just a few devices could dramatically reduce break-ins across a community, providing a kind of herd immunity against crime.” Burglars seeing a number of video doorbells may decide to pick an easier neighborhood. Many people feel reassured by these devices, but more research is needed to determine their overall effectiveness.

The video doorbell is intended as the first line of defense in home security. When the doorbell is rung, the camera allows people to identify who is at the door without opening it. It also provides a video record of the event. These devices also use motion detection to warn when someone is on your porch or in your yard. Like many people, Diane and I got our Ring as a Christmas present from one of our children. Our oldest son, who gave it to us, is a computer engineer who is always saying that he is trying to drag us into the 21st century.

Most burglaries take place when people are at work or school. The capability of these devices to send video directly to a smart phone anywhere is a real advantage. They are also compatible with Amazon Alexa and Google Home and can be set up to announce visitors at the door like a virtual butler.

Video doorbells have been around long enough now that they have captured a number of unexpected activities. For example, in California, a video doorbell camera recorded a confrontation between a homeowner and a suspected thief. The homeowner stormed out of her home and wrestled with an intruder after her video doorbell caught a woman rifling through her mail.

On YouTube and across the internet, there are doorbell videos showing curious bears, alligators, spiders, people in masks, scary clowns, and thieves caught in the act. The more bizarre videos include: a man licking a door bell, a fire starting in a neighbor’s yard, and a terrifying video of a snake jumping off a porch light and biting a man on the head. Several people have also captured what they believe are supernatural phenomena, including “ghosts,” “translucent forms” and “spirits.” Videos of people stealing video doorbells are also common. Most brands, however, provide a free replacement, if a police report is filed.

The Ring system offers a virtual “neighborhood watch” that alerts you when nearby Ring users become aware of suspicious activity. Some of the posts we have gotten include: sketchy guys on bikes at 4 a.m., a lost puppy, a woman taking measurements of a front yard, a man stealing a sprayer, and just two houses away, a very young boy checking houses for unlocked front doors while a man walks suspiciously down the sidewalk signaling to someone. Overall, this stuff may be good to know, but it certainly increases your paranoia.

While these doorbell systems work very well, the most common complaints are slow notifications, choppy video, or difficulty with the motion detection. When I first set up our doorbell, the alarm went off every time cars drove by the house.

Excuse me, but my video doorbell just went off — it’s either someone stealing our car, the guy cutting the grass, or a leaf blowing in the wind.

— Terry L. Stawar, Ed.D. lives in Jeffersonville and is the CEO of LifeSpring Health Systems. He can be reached at tstawar@gmail.com.