I am a gadget guy. I always love the latest invention and I’m driven to possess it. For example, my house is full of Amazon Echo devices. I think there’s one in every room. Yes, I know that all those devices are listening to us and Big Brother could hear it. Truth be told, we don’t say very much in this house that is anarchistic or even interesting. If necessary, we point at the devices and whisper.
As a result of this new technology, I have multiple lamps and other devices currently ruled by Alexa. I can walk into the room and say “Alexa, turn on the fireplace lamp,” or “Alexa, what’s the weather outside?” Magically, the lamp lights or I hear about the weather. However, we’ve discovered some inherent problems with allowing voice-based technology into our home. Saint Mary, my lovely bride, can never remember what I named the fireplace lamp or any of the other handy gadgets. This creates an additional problem: if your home is all Alexa’d up and you can’t remember the names of your devices, there is no easy way, for example, to turn a lamp on or off. You’d have to unplug the lamp from the little smart plug thing, which I have inconveniently hidden on the top shelf of a ten foot bookcase. So you need the stepladder to turn off the light.
It’s frustrating for Saint Mary, on a lot of levels. Not remembering the right names is exasperating. And carrying that stepladder around all day isn’t helpful. I hear her trying various names for various lamps and devices, usually unsuccessfully. One day she said to me, and you must imagine her tone, because it was pure malice whether she admits it or not, she said, “This is like being on a game show. And never winning.” I was so frightened that I gave her the secret word and the lamp came on.
She says I’ve spent far too much money on these things. She says if I would look at the checkbook and the budget, I wouldn’t buy them. And I explain that she’s absolutely right and I try not to look at the checkbook, so I don’t feel guilty. To her, it’s dollars and cents. To me, it’s cause and effect.
But she did make me think about something. Suppose there is an alternate universe, with an alternate history.
In that other reality, Thomas Edison patented the phonograph in 1878. The next year, he discovered a way to integrate the phonograph’s technology with the lightbulb, and patented a device that allowed people to turn the lightbulb on and off by speaking to it. He named the device Edison, and it was wildly popular. The Edison developed over the years, giving folks the weather and directing them to see movies, check the stock market, find menus for their meals, read or listen to books, ask what time it is, etc. It was a marvelous invention and it took over our lives.
Then, around 2010, Saint Mary, in her frustration, developed an electrical circuit-breaking device. Operated manually, it quickly shut off the electricity, or re-supplied it. This device could control the lightbulb by means of a pump handle located in the center of the room. In a few short years, the Manual Electronic Circuit Disruptor had been improved, miniaturized and installed in the walls of most new homes. It’s simplicity and ease of use made it even more popular than the Edison. Most people simply called it The Switch. People loved it, because they didn’t have to talk or remember names of things. They simply walked over and flipped the little lever on the wall. They Switched.
When the patent expired, Mary sold her company for eighty billion dollars and stock options. And we were content because Mary could quickly turn a lamp on or off without remembering the names of inanimate objects and I had new gadgets all over the walls of our home. We were insanely wealthy and I never again felt guilty about impulse buying.
Life was good in that alternate world, but of course it never happened. The End.
Alexa, turn off DB laptop.