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Vol XXXI No. 22, March 1-15, 2022

Who’s the ‘Smart’-est of us all?

-- Ranjitha Ashok

Remember the magic mirror?

The one harassed by being asked the same question over and over again by that psychotic lady with an unfortunate penchant for bumping off younger female relatives?

Well, today, the mirror, given its instinct to reflect the present, may change its tune, beginning with a strong objection to politically incorrect words like ‘fairest’.

“Wake up and smell the cream, lady”, it says with a touch of censure, adding, “The world today values ‘smart’, in addition to everything else. And you, my Queen, are not even close.”

At which point, the entitled bit of horror’s royal head explodes. Or so you imagine.

Either way, that’s precisely the effect all these ‘smart’ gadgets that now engulf the world have on humanity.

Admit it – your phone carries more functions than you’ll ever use, offers more information than you need, and is far more complex than anything you ever imagined handling. Plus, it is so hysterically sensitive that when you frantically rummage around, searching for it in that hoarder’s paradise you call a handbag, you find you have inadvertently called some four people by the time you find it or deleted the few apps you use.

Apparently, bright young people, (and those indefatigable upwardly-mobile climbers), are now re-defining the word ‘home’, by adding the word ‘smart’. Houses now offer a ‘hands-free’ environment filled with ‘contactless amenities’, along with strange gizmos like ‘touchless this-and-that’s’ and ‘all-electronic-whatsits’,

What does that mean, exactly? A look – and microwaves, ACs and TVs snap on?

It seems some front doors offer facial recognition. Here’s a thought – remember those old ‘Wanted’ posters? Maybe you could create a similar sort of floating holographic poster at the entrance….and if someone’s face matches one in that poster, the door stays firmly shut. And a deep James-Earl-Jones-ey voice intones: “Ask yourself – do you really want to be socially snubbed by a door?”

(You just created a one such poster in your mind, didn’t you?)

Homes like these have a ton of remotes floating around, you’re told. As if struggling with the ones you already have – with still no idea how to work them – isn’t enough.

Does anyone want to sing: How many remotes will it take till we admit, that we ha-aa-ve no contro-o-ol at all…the answer my friend…etc, etc?

Remotes switch things on; turn things off, open and shut curtains, blinds – and control room temperature.

A nightmare recipe for disaster. Have you ever really met a couple, a family, or even a group, that agrees on room temperature?

These homes are still a luxury, they say…but hey, given the speed with which luxuries turn into necessities, that means nothing.

Smart fridges warn you when milk and juice supplies run low, apparently.

What next?

Washing machines that click in rebuke when you toss in an ill-advised mix of colours and fabrics? Sweet dabbas and chocolate boxes that sniff sarcastically at your guilty approach? A wine cooler that clears its throat in a marked manner when you reach for the next bottle? Tables that tell you to take your feet off at once – “Excuse me, do I look like a footstool?”

And in younger homes, glasses of spillables that warn ‘imminent disaster indicated’?

Actually, that would be good thing. Dining table yelling and sulks can be avoided. And a ‘smart’ clothes closet might be useful – a soft Jeeves-like cough to indicate that that outfit is most unsuitable, madam, to meet Cranky Periamma.

You must have noticed gizmos all have better memories than you.

Devices, like your TV, now maintain a list of every show you have ever watched. Now, you tend to indulge in a bit of harmless subterfuge – you act like you only watch soulful philosophical discourses and brain-intense documentaries, but what you really like are raucous reality shows drenched in schadenfreude. Your watching device, however, completely betrays you by flashing your ‘Most Frequently Watched’ list, choosing the exact moment when Particularly-Catty-­Cousin peers at your screen.

The Smart Ones – they are watching. They know everything.

What you shop; what you order; what you search for…

And today – go online with assumed casualness, claiming to be looking, just looking, for a five-letter word – any word… and your device immediately takes you to a site that pointedly asks you if you’d like the answer to today’s Word-Game-Everyone-Is-Playing.

Talk about a techie conscience-keeper.

Your current world has reduced you to a small, clueless blot, constantly needing to learn the Next New Thing.

Mr Belafonte, many years ago, you regaled the world with your delightful ‘Man Smart, Woman Smarter’ number.

You might need to consider re-writing those lyrics. There’s a whole new entity now…and it’s been created by the very same men and women, who may have shot themselves in the foot by creating stuff that’s all ‘…uh – smarter’.

As for that mirror?

Looks like it just cracked from side to side.

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