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Tom Dunkel Headshot

Dreaming of a Dumb Christmas

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If you're still wondering what to get me for Christmas, maybe I can help.

No Smartphone. No Blu-ray player. No pocket camcorder. Please, nothing that asks more of me than "insert tab A into slot B."

Why don't I own an iPod? Same reason it took me four years to learn how to burn c.d.s. So little time, so many owner's manuals.

A quick sweep of my house turned up (mostly unread) instructions for the following: bicycle lock, garage door opener, TV, Dustbuster, DVD player, VCR, CD radio, power drill, smoke detector, electric hedge trimmer, hiking headlamp, fax machine, desktop computer, notebook, printer, binoculars (binoculars! all you have to know is how to hold them up to your eyes, no?) and cell phone.

The cell phone alone comes with a CD-ROM and two instruction booklets, totaling 140 pages plus three blank "memo" pages just in case...I dunno, just in case I ever get the urge to write a poem about my LG VX8100 camera phone.

No, I don't know how to properly operate most of those things.

I'm not a technophobe. It's just that I have a job, a dog, a house, regular bathing responsibilities - and not nearly enough free hours to master all the bells and whistles in my life.

I once took a perfectly good wristwatch and buried it alive under a pile of socks inside my dresser drawer. Had no choice. I'd lost the instructions and couldn't remember how to turn off the damn I let it beep, beep, beep every night at 1 a.m. until its little muffled, digital heart gave out.

I thought of that watch when I read a news story that said most people only know how to use about 40 percent of the capabilities of their so-called "smart appliances". Hmm. My kinda people.

Have we become too "smart" for our own good?

Smart appliances are the next wave in over-accessorized living. Prototypes exist for a refrigerator that orders food from an online grocer whenever it senses supplies are running low. Coming soon: radio frequency tags embedded in smart clothes that you'll be able to track like banded birds. Say goodbye to missing socks. (Great. Wake me when the lawnmower can run by itself.)

The danger is that smart appliances will lead to smarter appliances, which will begat genius-caliber, smart-aleck, talking appliances. Someday I'll have a late-night craving for chocolate ice cream and will get all weepy nostalgic for the good old days of vacuum tubes.

Smart refrigerator, speaking in that flat, security-alarm voice we know so well: Access denied.

Me, trying to yank open freezer door: Whattaya mean 'denied'? I just want some Ben & Jerry's.

Smart refrigerator: Freezer is locked from 6 pm to 6 am until further notice. Your New Year's resolution was to lose 10 pounds. You've gained five. The National Institutes of Health estimates 65 percent of Americans are overweight or obese, putting them at risk for heart disease and diabetes. Care for some carrot sticks?

There will be no refuge in Smart World, not anywhere in the house. We'll be forced to maintain significant-other relationships with all kinds of inanimate objects. Imagine that weird, brainiac kid from high school reduced to a microchip that won't go away.

Smart clothes washer: Clothes tracking function indicates a button is loose on the blue-pinstripe shirt in spin cycle.

Smart clothes dryer: Clothes drying is a metaphor for the tumble and turn of life, for the enervating routine of daily existence. Have you read Kierkegaard? I recommend his master work Either/Or. By the way, we need to discuss spring wardrobe planning.

Smart c.d. player: You listened to "Born to Run" three days ago. You have played 248 hours of Springsteen music this year. Might I suggest Barry Manilow's Greatest Hits? You have not listened to that in 15 years, 4 months, and 2 days.

Me: No Manilow! That was a bad Christmas gift...from a bad ex-girlfriend.

Smart, paternalizing c.d. player: I sense your body temperature rising. I will change the subject. May I borrow the smart car?

Me: Huh? You can't drive. You're a c.d. player.

Smart, really annoying c.d. player: Actually, I am an integral audio component of a smart-appliance home entertainment system...and I'd like to go clubbing with the microwave.

Me: No. You can't go clubbing with the microwave. You can play "Born to Run". Now!

Smart, hypersensitive c.d. player throwing a hissy fit: I hate you! So does the refrigerator and the furnace and the dish washer! WE ALL HATE YOU! [Pause for some smart appliance reflection. Voice softens.]

If you let me borrow the car, I'll tell you how to work the alarm on your smart watch.