“What does it say about technology that I’m now starting my days being told I’ve displeased my toothbrush?”
Don held up his new smart Oral B so I could see the lit frowny face displayed above the off button. I glanced at the timer.
“Two more seconds and you would’ve reached the ‘meh’ face,” I told him. I have the same model — designed to encourage two full minutes of brushing — so I am familiar with its slash-mouthed, slightly sour expression. “Another 15 seconds beyond that would have earned you a full smile.”
It’s odd to be bossed around or scolded by an inanimate object, but it happens. More and more.
For instance, I realize there are people who name their vehicles and treat them almost as if they’re alive, although I’ve never spent much time in that camp. My cars usually fall somewhere between Geezer and Wheezy and we generally don’t remain friends for too long. But back in 2016, I purchased my first brand-new car in a couple of decades. So, imagine my surprise when, several months later, I opened my inbox to find my car had sent me a note.
I don’t recall the exact wording of the email, but it was simple and to the point. Something like, “This is your car. My driver’s side tires need air.”
I was both amused and impressed, as I didn’t recall the car and I exchanging email addresses at all. Still, I allowed several days to pass without fulfilling its request.
So, it emailed again.
“Hey! My tires still need air.”
I feared the next email might simply say “... gasp ...,” so I did what it asked.
There was something about that “Hey” that felt human. Aware.
I was excited about this connection the car and I seemed headed to have. First, there might be a few emails, and then maybe dinner. A sunset or two. A little time at the beach.
But the wonderful, casual technology didn’t continue for long. Someone in some head office must’ve felt the informal messages were unprofessional, so the “Hey!” went away in favor of “diagnostic alerts,” complete with schematics and small-print disclaimers.
And no personality whatsoever.
It seems like, in this age of being able to opt in or out, they’d have offered the choice between personality and just-the-facts, ma’am.
I know quite a few people who are bothered by online ad personalization, feeling it’s an invasion of privacy. You mention casually you’d love a pair of Frye boots and suddenly, they’re appearing in your header or along the side of your screen.
Up until recently, I didn’t pay it much mind. But last week, I needed to use the name of a random dental adhesive — just to be funny — in an email. Since I wasn’t certain if Polident had one L or two, I Googled it.
For days now, I’ve been inundated with denture product offers, mobility aids and silver-haired models.
Fortunately, it’s not so difficult to outsmart technology. All it took was Googling a few pimple creams and cyber space believes I’m in puberty again.
I have a friend who admits to occasionally putting her Fitbit on her long-legged dog so she can get credit for his steps.
And our fancy new toothbrushes are just as easy to fool.
I found Don’s sitting on the sink, still running, even after he’d left.
It was smiling away.