Column Date 2005-12-14

Good Morning, Mr. Toaster

I just found out that my washer and dryer talk to each other.

This is not a joke. To quote GE’s instruction manual that came with the machines: “The washer talks. The dryer listens.” (GE says it has something to do with the washer checking the clothes and telling the dryer what settings to use.)

I don’t know about you, but talking appliances make me very nervous, particularly since I don’t know what they’re saying behind my back.

I mean, is the washer making rude remarks about the yellow stains on my undershirt? Or the wine I spilled on my chinos? And does the dryer laugh at the washer’s jokes?

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The people at Microsoft go even further: they want to computerize my whole house. In their scheme, every appliance in the house will talk to every other appliance. Even my light switches and doorbells will get in on the conversation.

If you ask “What time is it?” in the Microsoft house of the future, the house itself answers: “It is two-thirty PM.” Honest. I am not making this up.

And if you put your Cuisinart on the kitchen counter, along with, say, some vegetables, the Microsoft house will ask if you’re making stir fry. If you say yes, it will project a recipe on the counter.

Think of it: refrigerators, dishwashers, toasters, ovens, microwaves, air conditioners, light switches, thermostats, TVs, stereos, garage door openers – everything in your home will be linked together wirelessly, and your appliances will be chatting all the time.

Refrigerator: Good morning, Mr. Toaster.

Toaster: Good morning, Mr. Refrigerator. Did you have a good night?

Refrigerator: Well, it was quiet until that Tannen fellow came downstairs for some ice cream around midnight...

Clock (interrupts): It was 11:37 PM actually. And thirteen seconds.

Refrigerator: Whatever. He came down for a Dove bar. And he couldn’t eat just one. Not him. He had me working for half an hour!

Microwave: Personally, I think he’s putting on some weight. Some of those microwave dinners he eats are just loaded with fat. And you wouldn’t believe how much salt they have.

Scale: Well, just between you and me, he’s gained 5 pounds in the last three months!

Treadmill: I’m not surprised – haven’t seen the guy in weeks.

Lighted Mirror: And he wasn’t exactly what you would call slim to begin with.

They all murmur their agreement.

Lighted Mirror (continues): Maybe I should just lower my wattage, you know, dim the light way down, so he doesn’t look so bad?

Dishwasher: I like that idea. Shall we put it to a vote?

No matter what all these appliances may think, the computer scientists assure me that I (the human) will still be the boss, the Alpha Male, the decision maker. So I suppose I’ll have to learn to order my appliances around, firmly. And I’ll have to make sure they don’t get into petty squabbles, misunderstand each other, get scared during power blackouts, etc.....just like, well, little children.

And someday I know that I’ll get back to the office from a late lunch and my secretary will say: “Your Mr. Coffee called while you were out. He asked if you could pick up some French Roast Decaf on the way home?”

©2004 Peter Tannen