Personal Thoughts on Smart Appliances

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I miss dumb appliances.

I moved into this house in August from an apartment that mostly had dumb appliances. They had off/on buttons and function settings and timers, but they were basically dumb. They had no decision making power. They didn’t care if I attended them. Ergo, I had no need to argue with them.

My new home, however, is full of smart appliances. I’ve found myself talking more to them than I ever did to my dumb appliances. Well, not exactly talking as much as yelling at them in fits of exasperation. It makes me wonder if this sort of behavior is a prevalent habit in households all over the world now. If psychiatrists are sharpening their pencils in preparation of writing white papers about people with appliance relationship disorders. All because of the mistaken idea that appliances need to be smart.

Let’s take my microwave as an example.

My microwave is like a frustrated elementary school teacher. It does its thing (cooking) perfunctorily. When the cooking cycle is finished, it emits a long, loud sound announcing that the cooking is done. If I don’t do anything, it makes more of these sounds, which can definitely be interpreted as “I’m done; come open the door”. 

If I continue to ignore it, within a few seconds its tirade, insistently demanding that I come and open the door. It won’t stop until somebody bloody well opens the door. Like a third grade teacher patiently saying over and over again “Don’t do that. Don’t do that. Don’t do that.” to a student who isn’t listening. My microwave says “Open the door. Open the door. Open the door.”

It is relentless.

The result is that I’m not the only person in the household who has developed a habit of slinging swear words at the microwave to tell it to shut up. Sometimes we’re doing more important things and can’t stop  immediately to run to the microwave. Like using the rest room. Or answering the door. Or blowing out birthday cake candles.

And I can’t manually fix it! There’s no way to tell it to give me just one or two or three beeps and then stop. The only adjustment is for volume, which, I might add, has two settings: zero or the voice of God.

It wouldn’t be so bad if the microwave were the only appliance to have this nuisance feature. And admittedly not all of the appliances have unpleasant voices. At least my rice machine happily entertains guests by playing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” when the rice is ready, for which I dutifully give it a pat on its top as a reward for a job well done.

The bread machine, however, must be related to the microwave. It beeps for a solid five minutes when it comes to the part of its cycle when it’s time to add raisins or nuts. No amount of yelling will get it to stop even after I’ve added the ingredients. The programmers didn’t go so far as to add a “beeper off” button for this. They should’ve included earplugs along with the bread pan and recipe book.

The range is the worst. It’s so smart it can shut the burners and ovens off when the food is done. Don’t ever accidentally press a wrong button because it will shut down everything and beep at you until you fix it, if it decides to continue working at all! Like a snooty artist who thinks he’s so good that he has to be pandered to in order to get anything out of him. I’m too ashamed of the things I’ve said to it to repeat them here. Needless to say, all it needed was an escape key.

But thinking of the range makes me glad I figured out the secret combination of buttons to press to get the dishwasher to run a normal cycle. Someday I might discover the combination for gentle cycle, or the pots and pan cycle, or the numerous other cycles it supposedly can perform, but at least today we can use the only cycle that really matters. I haven’t had a bad word for the dishwasher since we reached that understanding.

My washing machine isn’t very smart and thankfully has an off button for the beeper. So we rarely have any sort of conversation. The dryer, though…

Ah, the dryer! Remember the high school choral teacher who liked to sing out her instructions in class rather than just say what she needed to say, like a normal teacher? Such as: she’d sing “let’s all stand up!” while waving her arms for us to stand, or “Please let’s stop talking now!” when she was ready for us to begin class.

That’s my dryer. She has a different note for each one of her thirty five buttons and she likes to use them as much as possible in as many combinations as possible. She sings when she starts and sings another song when she’s finished. She sings when I program her for wrinkle guard. She sings when the steam function goes on or when it isn’t working properly.

But, to her credit, she stops singing when she’s said what she needed to say. So, although we often criticize her from the living room, it’s mostly because she’s just adding her voice to the already loud cacophony of appliance voices we’ve been forced to listen to during the last hour.

The only appliance in the house that doesn’t have an annoying personality is the coffee maker. It doesn’t beep. At all. It starts its coffee-making with a few grunts and finishes with a lot of puffs and sighs, but there’s no beeping, no singing, no needless chattering to remind me that it’s done its job. It just does its work like appliances used to do (dare I say it?) before people became too stupid or too busy to pay attention to what they were doing.

How ironic is it that the one appliance I would like to know is finished when I’m in another room doesn’t make a single peep?

Smart appliances. Or are they?

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