Having recently gotten hitched to my Queen of Darkness (it was a lovely ceremony, involving much wailing and gnashing of teeth and the sacrifice of a live midget), we were on the prowl at the elegant French department store known as Target (pronounced “Tar-zjay”, you incompetent hicks) for housewares. We had an abundance of gift cards to spend on kitchen utensils, and were in the process of stocking up when it came up that we had forgotten to add something to the list: a vacuum cleaner. Having something of a known robot fetish, I naturally gravitated toward one of the six coolest things I’ve ever heard of: the Roomba.
The Queen of Darkness, of course, could only ask, “Why?”
I was dumbfounded. There is no “why” when it comes to robots. The answer to that question is always “because I can”. In this case, it’s “Because I can have a fucking robot that roams around and cleans my house.” Seriously. If I had one, I’d even name it “Rosie”, after the robot maid from The Jetsons. I’d go so far as to stencil the name on it. It would be glorious – glorious, I say!
You realize that this humble robot maid is the only part of the once-touted “future” that has come true. As I was growing up in the 80s, we were promised all sorts of shiny things by the 21st century. Flying cars, personal jet-packs, robot servants, you name it. The future was up for grabs, and nothing you could imagine was too wild.
So here we are, on the cusp of 2009, and there’s no flying car in my driveway. I don’t have a jet-pack with asbestos pants in my closet. But by God, if I want it, I can have a robot clean my fucking house for a mere $300. (And keep in mind that there are plenty of expensive vacuum cleaners that cost that much and require a squishy to guide them – if I’m going to spend $300 on a vacuum, the damn thing had better not need me to stand behind it.) I fucking need a robotic maid to sweep my floors, if only to vindicate the dreams of all those science fiction writers who said the 21st century would be full of marvels.
So, what did we get out of this shiny future that turned out to be the same old grimy and boring present? Well, we’ve got cell phones, which is a technology that I could live without. Well, okay, I couldn’t do without it, but I could do without the people who live with the damn things welded to their ears like some kind of low-grade cybernetic implants. The science fiction writers who dreamed up our supposed future couldn’t conceive of a 350-pound woman in hot pants yakking away on a cell phone while in the checkout line at Wal-Mart. Sure, it’s convenient and all, but it’s a technology that’s been abused in ways the high-minded nerds who designed Captain Kirk’s communicator never thought of.
Then there’s one piece of technology you, dear reader, are using right now. That’s right, bubba, I’m talking about the vast and smelly mass of tubes known as the Internet. Once again, like the ubiquitous cell phone, this was something that futurists, scientists, and science fiction geeks predicted could be a part of our future. The idea dates way back to Nikola Tesla (who wasn’t the most normal individual – he spent his last days secluded in a hotel room with a pigeon) and his “world system”, which he sold to his backers as a sort of worldwide communication grid. Of course, all that was just a bit of a fib to cover up his continuing to work on a failed power transmission system, but what the hell. If you squint, he predicted the Internet. Lots of other people did, too. None of them could foresee the number one use for this marvelous collection of interconnected computers. Sure, it puts the collected knowledge of mankind at your fingertips, but what’s it really used for? Porn. Porn porn porn porn porn. Poooooorrrrrn. Every fetish and paraphilia you can imagine is out there somewhere. If you don’t believe me, do a Google search for “Bart Simpson porn” and see what comes up.
So, am I just being a cranky old man, or have we truly squandered our chances at having a bright and shiny future? Maybe if Paul Moller had worked a little harder, or if we had taken him seriously and sunk more money into his projects, we’d have flying cars by now. Or not – considering how badly people drive on the ground, putting the average American motorist behind the controls of something flying at 200 miles per hour is just fucking scary. That’s another technology that would be ruined in the hands of our current crop of users, the same way the Internet and cell phones have been.
But goddammit, at least I can have a robot that cleans my house. There’s no way we can ruin that, right?