“Mommy, Why Won’t the TV Answer Me?”

by Bruce Kasanoff on November 8, 2011

early November in 2015

Julia stood in front of the television set, wailing. Her Mom rushed down the basement stairs to see what was troubling the little girl.

“What’s wrong, Julia?”

Her daughter gave her a look of confusion and hurt. “She won’t answer me, Mommy. Why won’t she answer me?”

Katie smiled. Julia was standing in front of their old TV, which Bill last night decided to pull out of the garage and set up in front of the treadmill.

“She won’t play Sesame Street! She won’t turn up the music!”

Katie crouched and put her arms around the little girl. “This TV is old, Julia. It doesn’t talk. It doesn’t listen.”

Julia rubbed her eyes. “Everything talks, Mommy. Toaster talks. Frig talks. Garage talks. Why won’t TV talk?”

“No, honey, just a few years ago nothing but people talked. None of the things around our house used to talk. So anything that’s older than you probably can’t talk.”

Julia tilted her head. “But that’s stupid, Mommy. How do things know what you want if they can’t talk and they can’t hear?”

Katie smiled. “We used to have to push buttons, twist knobs and type on keyboards. Everything had controls you touched with your hands.”

“Yuch,” said Julia with a grimace. “Dirty.”

“Maybe a little bit, yes.” It certainly was easier to keep appliances and electronics clean, now that you barely touched them.

Julia looked back at the TV. “Old TV is stupid. Old toasters are stupid, too. Everything old is stupid.”

Katie looked her daughter in the eye. “I’m sort of old. Am I stupid?”

Julia shook her head aggressively. “No, Mommy. You can talk. You listen to me. You’re not stupid. Only things that don’t listen are stupid.”

Wow, thought Katie, Julia’s generation will only know intelligent devices. Her daughter still had trouble holding a crayon properly, but she was creating stories just by talking to the bulletin board next to her bed. At night, Julia would chat happily with “Sarah,” and Sarah would record every word the little girl said – unless Julia told her to “forget that last part.”

Katie had to admit it was an unsettling change when the first few companies made the transition from horrific voicemail systems to Talking Company. Now you could just call Best Buy and a gentle female voice knew every detail about every product; she even remembered your previous call.

Katie nearly hung up the phone in panic the second time she called Best Buy’s Talking Company and the voice said pleasantly, “Hi, Katie. It’s good to talk with you again.”

“Mommy,” said Julia, trying to get her Mom to focus on what is really important. “Please make the stupid TV play Sesame Street.”

Written by Bruce Kasanoff of Now Possible, where science fiction meets business.

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