Last week, our clothes dryer died and, while shopping for a new one, the salesman, after enduring my constant exclamations of “For god’s sake, I just need it to dry my clothes, not cure cancer”, gleefully took me to the refrigerator section to show me a model that not only connects to WiFi so you can surf the internet (from your refrigerator door), but also has a camera that allows you to see the inside of your fridge without opening the door. That way, while you’re standing in the middle of Wegmans thinking “Do we really need milk?”, you can just use your smart phone to look inside your fridge and get the answer. With a price tag of $3185, I think you’d have to avoid purchasing a lot of extra milk before that fridge paid for itself. But as my friend Tammy says, some people have too much money.
Anyway, apparently our refrigerator saw the dryer go out the front door last week and, not wanting to miss out on whatever fun it imagined the outside world holds for aging appliances, yesterday decided it was also time to retire. I spent an entire day shopping for a replacement that would fit not only our budget but the weirdly shaped kitchen in our 90 year old house.
Needless to say, we won’t be getting the $3185 model the salesman demonstrated for us last week. I just want a refrigerator that keeps milk cold and ice cream frozen; if it has a working light inside? Bonus. (True story: I actually forgot that refrigerators have lights inside, so I was pretty jazzed about that feature. The salesman, recognizing the depth of my technology ignorance, added, “And it’s LED, so you don’t have to worry about buying those expensive light bulbs.” Wait. You can buy replacement refrigerator light bulbs?)
These recent appliance adventures reminded me of a column I wrote a few years ago called “The Trouble With Technology,” so I thought I’d share it again. It’s a bit dated…or is it prophetic? You decide. I just got an email reminding me that my car is due for its annual inspection.
PS: “The Trouble With Technology” appears in my book, “What the Dog Said“, .the royalties of which will pay for a half-gallon of milk to store in my new refrigerator.
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THE TROUBLE WITH TECHNOLOGY
I recently got a glimpse of the “House of Tomorrow” on a TV show about home design and technology. While Judy Jetson’s kitchen may seem like the stuff of science fiction, according to people who know about these things, it’ll be here before you know it.
Introducing the home that virtually runs itself.
Walk in the front door, and the house greets you by name and initiates a welcome program, complete with pre-set lighting and temperature controls. In the kitchen, built-in computer technology allows you to input a list of ingredients and the kitchen will supply a recipe, displayed right onto your kitchen counter. Forget those sticky recipe cards. When you’re done, just turn the counter off. The microwave comes with a barcode reader; scan the popcorn bag and your kernels are popped per Orville’s instructions.
Everything operates either automatically or on voice command, and it’s all designed to make your life easier. There’s even a refrigerator that will call you when someone has left the fridge door open.
If the fridge is so high tech, why doesn’t it just close the door itself?
It’s bad enough that parents can’t get a night out without the kids calling a hundred times to complain that someone is watching MTV without permission, or that someone is breathing someone else’s air and had better stop before someone gets it. Now the refrigerator calls with problems, too?
Let’s say I’m out to dinner. I’m relaxing, enjoying time with my husband and friends, when all of the sudden my cell phone rings.
“Good evening, this is your refrigerator. I’m calling to inform you that my door is open.”
I’m not sure that’s very convenient. At the risk of stating the obvious, I can’t close the door until I get home. Now I’m going to be worrying throughout dinner if my overpriced half-gallon of all natural, organic ice cream is melting into a pool on the kitchen floor or if the cat has crawled in the fridge for a late night buffet of leftover chicken.
I’d rather be ignorant and deal with the problem when I get home. By then, if I’m lucky, the dog will have licked up the ice cream and it won’t matter that the cat ate the leftovers. Dinner will already be thawed for tomorrow.
I’m not sure how to define this new personal relationship with my machines. Apparently my car can now send me an email when its oil is low or the battery is about to die. If we’re going to be so chummy, why only email me when there’s a problem? Why not drop me a line now and then, just to say hello?
Technology is supposed to make our lives easier, but there are times when it’s faster to do things the old-fashioned way. Anyone who has used an automatic paper towel dispenser in a public restroom knows what I’m talking about. You can wave your wet hands repeatedly in front of the little red light until it spits out a piece of towel too small to dry a gerbil, but by the time you’ve accumulated enough toweling, your hands are already dry from all of the waving – although your sleeves are soaked from the dripping water.
Remember the good old days, when it took less time to crank out paper towels than it takes to jump around in front of the automatic sink trying to get the water to turn on?
Don’t get me wrong. I’m especially grateful for technology like email, text messaging, and cell phones that enable me to keep in touch with friends and family around the globe.
But if I have to chat up my machines as well, maybe someone could program my refrigerator to call my car when we’re out of milk so the car can print out a shopping list when I get to the grocery store. That way, I won’t have to stand in the produce aisle trying to remember why I’m there.
That, my friend, would be technology designed to make my life easier.