My fridge can speak five languages. It’s official. I now have a white-ware item that is quite possibly cleverer than I am. But just in case you’re imagining the two of us sitting up late in my kitchen with a bottle of Lambrusco secco discussing the films of Luis Buñuel, I ought to point out that these linguistic skills are so far limited to a small external display that will tell me if the salad draw needs washing or if the thermostat is set too low. It’s not going to start romancing the dishwasher any time soon or serving as a diplomatic back channel to negotiate disputes in the dairy compartment on issues of increased autonomy and tighter borders. But I fear that day will soon arrive. There have been precedents.
Take something as simple as a phone, a device that used to help us talk to mum and generally came, as I have said before, with a building attached to it. The phone went mobile in the eighties, shacked up with a camera and a music-player in the nineties, needed some muscle to manage all that data and began to use its extra power and capacity to play games and videos at the turn of the millennium, went online a year or two later to down and upload its own content, adding e-mail and network sharing skills on the way, then discovered that it could search, book, cancel, pay, transfer, bid, play, congratulate, titillate, nudge, locate, measure, guide, advise, track and entertain in so many ways that it is now the single thing in this brave new world of smart stuff that none of you can do without for more than three minutes and forty-seven seconds if you’re over thirty and fifteen seconds if you’re fifteen.
I said “none of you”, rather than “none of us”, because I’ve succeeded, until now, in bucking the trend. I’m just arrogant enough to be disturbed by the idea of sharing my space with anything smarter than me. It could be the reason why I’m not married. Although a smart-phone probably offers the ideal solution for most grouchy singles in need of stimulation but unable to handle real companionship – a trophy relationship with a cool and curvy object, light conversation on unthreatening topics, sex without strings or regrets, the illusion of a vivid life with lots of friends – for me all these are, or were, bridges too far in the ever-expanding and incursive war on my privacy. But that was before my fridge moved in.
Because my fridge wants more of me: it wants to send me e-mails with suggestions of stuff to shop for. It yearns to interact. More than anything it would love to be able to contact me (through Siri, I presume) the moment I step over the threshold of my local super market, with a reminder not to forget eggs, butter and orange juice. Moving on from there (since there’s a bit of space in its freezer compartment), why not contact the frozen food section to find out what’s on offer that I might like and surreptitiously pop a couple of lazy dinners on my list? And while we’re on the subject of lists, my fridge can get in touch directly with the store and have my entire cart loaded up and waiting for me when I arrive. All I’ll have to do is check that the vegetables look fresh and healthy. Yes, my fridge can do all this and possibly much more: suggest me a menu for any particular evening and what to drink with it, even remind me that I haven’t seen Chiara for more than a month and that she loves to eat something now and then that isn’t
But my fridge can only develop our relationship fully if I buy a smart-phone. This explains why I’m hesitating over this potentially life-changing if not life-enhancing decision. Do I plunge in at the deep end and get the new bendy iPhone? If my answer is no, then I’ll never fully exploit the intellectual and relational skills of my fridge, for which I’ve already paid. The secret Scot in me, a vague ghost of my forefathers, can’t stand to think of that. But if my answer is yes, then I lay myself open to abusive manipulation, not only by a six-foot bruiser in the corner of my kitchen, but also by any number of supermarkets, fresh and frozen food-delivery services, online wine catalogue editors etc., not to mention those leading-edge trolls and hackers who will make my fridge send me insulting e-mails and Facebook comments, bury its abilities under a pile of spam or force it to divulge my iCloud password (by threat of Thaw, god of lukewarm Riesling) and post photos of my failed attempts at high-concept gastronomy on Tumblr.
And once it begins to fully interact with my other appliances, then whatever happens in the last reel becomes academic. Game over. My fridge will have become another of Mme Harker’s allies in the battle to convert me into gentility, normality and the Belgian way. If my clothes are too redolent of cigar smoke, it will refuse the front door permission to let me enter, despite punching the correct security code. It will insist that I eat more fruit and dark green veggies and that I watch my cholesterol. All this will come streaming at me through my phone across the “Internet of Things”. From then on, a hectoring gang of appliances will begin to demand, via sms, voicemail, etc., that my laundry be changed more often, that my dirty dishes do not just rot in the washer, but that I run it from time to time, that I mow the lawn, that I get a haircut and replace the light bulb in the broom closet, that I clean out the poor tropical fish who languish in the hall, that I use my credit cards more than occasionally, that I learn to love home-made bread and home-made ice-cream: two machines my cousin Fiona gave me for Christmas 2012 and ‘13, which I haven’t got around to using yet, and that quite probably also have interactive microprocessors tucked away somewhere, beaming their constrained inactivity back to her surf-board of a phone.
Yes, if I take but one step forward in the march of progress, there will be a palace revolution and my
head, which once-upon-a-time used to command my
life, will definitely be the first on the block to roll. I could hardly call my fridge thin, but it’s certainly the end of a BIG wedge.
© Edwin Drood
, September 2014