More leisure time. That’s what they promised us. A future filled with time and space-saving devices, such as clothes that clean themselves, cars that park themselves and appliances that can make our lives so much easier. Well, 2 out of 3 ain’t bad, but the thing is, these inventions don’t actually make our lives easier. Take the self-parking car for example, what insurance company worth its AAA rating is going to insure someone that lets a 1.5 tonne heap of metal park itself? And how does it know which space it will fit in? I have been driving since I was 17 and I still can’t judge which spaces I can fit into; its only after a couple of circuits of the block and careful consideration that I am confident that I can squeeze my 2-tonne tractor into that space outside my front door. The issue is that it doesn’t make our lives easier because we would constantly worry that the computer would throw a wobbly and suddenly go psycho and smash into anything it sees with its glowing robotic eyes (have you seen the episode of The Simpsons, when the robots at the Itchy and Scratchy Land go berserk?). Its got group class action written all over it. Heavens forbid what it will be like when cars can actually drive themselves.
Robot vacuum cleaners are another invention that is supposed to save us time. Except that it can’t climb stairs or put chairs up or get into corners. So, in effect, it can only do about 70% of the work required to vacuum a house. By the time you have set up sensors to stop it falling down steps and committing Roomba suicide, or moved all your precious furniture out of the way, you may as well have done it yourself (or called in the cleaners). And can it empty itself? Oh no, you still have to wipe its arse.
My theory is that there will never be machines that will make our lives easier because if there were ever such things in existence, we would never need anything else and these companies would be redundant. So they make appliances that are almost indispensable, just reliable enough to get your through the first 2 years of leisure-enhancing nirvana until it breaks down. And not just slightly fail, but catastrophic failure. All those old-world appliances that you threw away because now that you have this one thing to replace them all are now just relics on some scrap heap on the outskirts of Blacktown. Of course, you can’t exactly get them back now so you have to walk up to the TV and change the channel manually, except that there are no longer any buttons to change the channels on the TV as they were deemed redundant when TVs were controlled remotely.
Why am I ranting on about this you ask? Well, I have to come clean and admit that I have an agenda here. You see, about 2 months ago my universal remote ceased to charge itself, so I asked the manufacturer if they could send me a new battery (which I would gladly pay for). Not as easy as it sounds. Firstly, they would need photo proof that the battery is not charging. How on earth, I hear you ask, do you show that a battery is no longer charging? No matter, I take some nice photos of my remote, the battery that no longer wants to play ball, my invoice (as proof of purchase), and the serial number. I am tempted to take one of me holding the device to prove that I am in fact a real person and not some cyber weirdo that likes to annoy tech companies.
Another 5 weeks pass and by now its nearly Christmas and the thought of not having my beloved remote throughout the busiest thumb pressing season of the year is almost unbearable. Luckily, I have a newborn daughter to keep me amused for the festive season. So whilst embarking on a Sleepless in Seattle type relationship with a Filipino call centre lady, my quest for a life of leisurely couch time goes on. Now I have 3 remotes to contend with. Was life ever really that complicated before we needed all these gadgets that save us, on average, 38 seconds a day?
Two and a half months later I finally get my replacement handset after much photoshopping and frustration. What they didn’t tell me when I bought the thing was that after about 2 years the battery starts to swell up and becomes stuck in the battery compartment, thus rendering it useless in terms of being able to recharge it. But now that I have my new remote I now also have to re-programme it. These so-called smart gadgets are about as smart as a dog with a new trick – you still have to remind it how to perform basic functions like ‘turn on TV’ or ‘turn off TV’ and not switch on microwave when I want to watch Murder She Wrote. Again, if such as gadget existed that could learn all my commands and be smart enough to realise that if I wanted to listen to CDs on high volume at 2am I would have told it to do so, we would never need to buy any of their products again, or need to talk to call centre staff in the Phillippines.
Clothes that clean themselves, however…