September 2, 2011

Technology continues battle with Raven

Technology can be a good thing, but it also makes life more complicated

This morning I watched the great mechanized garbage truck rumble down the hill to our house. I don’t make a sport of this, but a neighbor’s contractor partially blocked the space where the garbage truck normally stops.

This is how it works: we pay a monthly fee for the giant garbage can. While there are two men in the truck, they rarely leave the cab.

A giant arm comes out and grabs the trash bin on either side, flips it upside down, and then dumps the contents into the grumbling bowels of the truck.

Things almost always fall out of the garbage can to the street, and we have to pick them up. And the truck moves on to its next
victim, no human hands ever touching the can.

This level of automation seems to be present in many daily activities. We favor a sandwich shop in our town. When you pull up to the drive-up window, a digitized voice tells you the store’s hours, then a human comes on to take your order. I find this curious. I’m at the store; why do I need to know their hours?

I’ve been pondering
how my daily life could be enhanced with further levels of automation.

Do you ever wake up before dawn and find your cat’s gaze fixed on you, waiting breakfast? What about a digital cat feeder that senses the cat is awake at four a. m.?

The cat could paw and knead against the robofeeder, which will automatically go into the kitchen, retrieve and open the cat food, place it on the floor, and pat the kitty on the head, saying in an emotionless digital voice, “That’s a good kitty.”

Why not a digitized robot phone butler who knows when someone is soliciting you for magazine subscriptions, or license plates, or monogrammed
garbage bags? A truly modest proposal might be an actual robobutler to answer your door, saying something like, “Our hours are eight to five. We don’t talk to people who come to our door after five p.m.”

I am not against automation and progress. Imagine a world without Swiffer! Why we would have to go back to the old-fashioned yellow mop bucket and mop!

But I long for the days when I was able to operate a television remote without consulting a help line overseas. My ability to understand a remote that resembles a console at the Johnson Space Center is limited, so I’m watching
less TV. So I choose my battles. I have to use the computer in my work, so I attempt to stay current and read all that I can. Remember when all computers came with manuals? One of the conundrums of progress is that most new electronic devices come with online “help” books, but if you can’t get the device loaded you can’t get the help.

I do not need a Smartphone, so I’ve stepped backward in time and use a cellphone that works as a phone. Amazing, I know. You dial a number, and you can call someone.

But I am still terrified about the future. Next week we are getting a new refrigerator. Have you purchased a fridge lately? Do your research; it isn’t
as easy as you think. My parents had a simple fridge with metal ice trays in the freezer. So what if the icy tasted like tin and was a little fuzzy? It didn’t require a special computer panel, that will most likely be the first to go.

When you purchase the refrigerator, the sales person will talk endlessly about the reason for a multiyear warranty.

As you are buying the most technologically advanced refrigerator of your lifetime, the sales person is already telling you it is going to break.

That’s progress?

Amy McVay Abbott is an Indiana essayist and journalist. She likes to hear from readers at .