I have some friends — let’s call them Jane and Dale Kingswood — who are getting on in years. OK, so am I. But Jane is well into her 80s now; Dale is 91 and uses a wheelchair. They recently moved into a very nice assisted-living place, where they have a lovely view from their fourth-floor apartment.
Jane and Dale aren’t very high-tech. For many years, they didn’t even have a television machine (no, they don’t call it that; I’m just having a little fun here), but they have one now, mainly so that Dale can watch his sports. As far as Jane is concerned, TV consists of 200 channels, all of which show nothing but morbidly obese people who live with junk piled up to the ceiling in houses that should have been condemned years ago.
But the Kingswoods don’t have much else from the gadget department — no smartphones, no dumbphones, and certainly no computer. They were among the last people I know who could not necessarily be reached at any time, night or day; at their last home, they didn’t even have an answering machine. And Jane does a lot of reading, but the devices she uses have pages, not screens.
As I said, Jane and Dale aren’t very high-tech, but it’s not that they’re Luddites; they simply don’t feel any particular need to have the latest doodads around. And yet, when I visited them recently, the conversation somehow turned to tech. Jane was telling about the time she got a big surprise while driving her new car.
Dale had bought the car, you see, although it was registered to Jane, but he had never bothered to tell her that it was equipped with a feature — let’s call it AutoSnoop® — that lets you order a pizza, call home, or whatever, through voice commands. You can call AutoSnoop® in an emergency, or it can call you. If you have a crash, it can summon help. It knows when you are sleeping, it knows when you’re awake.
Anyway, Jane was driving along one day, by herself, minding her own business, with no idea that the car had AutoSnoop® and no idea what it was, anyway, but somehow she must have hit the button by mistake. That’s when she heard the voice: “ARE YOU IN TROUBLE, MRS. KINGSWOOD?”
“It was like the voice of God,” she told me. Who or what else, after all, is invisible but can speak to you, loud and clear — while you’re alone in your car, or anywhere else — and even knows you by name?
But without wondering how often this must happen — and how many startled drivers must run off the road every year — is that any way for AutoSnoop® to talk to a lady? Not “How can I be of service?” or “Have you had an accident or breakdown?” but “Are you in trouble?” — meaning what, exactly? What was he/she/it suggesting? Trouble like Janet Leigh was in, as Marion Crane in “Psycho,” when she embezzled money from her employer, then went on the lam but found herself in even hotter water at the Bates Motel? Or trouble like Cher was in when she sang, in “Gypsies, Tramps and Thieves,” about how she picked up a stranger just south of Mobile, then three months later she was “a gal in trouble” and she hadn’t seen him for a while, uh-huh?
Worse, AutoSnoop® made it personal: not “Are you in trouble, esteemed customer,” but: “ARE YOU IN TROUBLE, MRS. KINGSWOOD?”
Too cheeky by half, if you ask me. The nerve.
Reach Glenn Richter at firstname.lastname@example.org.