Kage Baker was a great fan of the wonders of science. She loved seeing what new techno toys were up and coming, what labour-saving devices were being developed. And she was just as entertained when modern science failed. I think it had something to do with watching the creative process in action.
Domestic robots fascinated her, although she felt we, specifically, were born to soon to see the full flowering of the industry. Programmable robots that fetch beer in their own ice chests are all very well – but no one has yet come up with a butler or bartender that makes complicated drinks. What Kage wanted was something that spoke in a George Sands accent and made perfect Manhattans – not R2D2 with a Budweiser in his head. Roombas fascinated her at first, but their programming did not allow for someone who kept stacks on books and manuscripts on the floor … and they degenerated into cat toys amazingly quickly.
“Smart” houses existed in her lifetime (several paradigms’ worth, actually) but they all seemed to be exercises in DIY electronics repair. Circuit breakers were no more reliable than fuses. Wiring your refrigerator to your phone, your alarm system and living room lights was fun; but the results were more likely to be domestic fires and power failures than a lifestyle worthy of the Jetsons. And there was very little attention being given to any retro styles – Kage didn’t care for the cold, white, Modernne style most wired houses exhibited; she wanted wallpaper and wood panelling as well as ice and coffee in the fridge door.
Besides, as she always pointed out, never forget that the Carousel of Progress at Disneyland killed a cast member. Kage was not at all sure humanity was ready for that sort of power in intimate settings. And the closer the sex trade gets to mechanized intercourse, the surer she was that a whole new class of grotesque home accidents was on the horizon.
The behaviour of the Internet confirmed both Kage’s hopes and practical expectations. It was the magic crystal she had always wanted, letting her find and see almost anything from the comfort of her own desk. It was the enchanted portal she had been led to expect, too: webcams were a glorious surprise to Kage, allowing her to see exotic cities and faraway places. When other planets joined Machu Pichu and the London Eye on her daily viewing list, she felt that one techn0logy, at least, was achieving its promised goals.
“Ah, the wonders of science!” Kage would exclaim, gazing at the tidal mudflats of Titan.
Of course, she said the same thing when the lithium battery in my first cell phone exploded in a mass of hot foam. The difference was in the sarcastic role of the eyes …
Still, she loved techno toys, and was always eager to see what the new stuff was going to be. Not that she necessarily intended to let it into the house – that stuff was dangerous.
I don’t think I have the same intensely personal relationship Kage had with technology. I am inclined to be a second-wave adopter, maybe not waiting for the completely vetted version but not willing to be a beta tester, either. It’s why I’ve avoided Apple machines, because for all their virtues, there is no way to buy them without being a beta tester. I am saved from much despair, but I suppose I also miss a lot of stunning triumphs, too.
But then, unlike Kage, I’ve never been into dancing around the living room …
I don’t like surprise upgrades in my devices. I don’t let Windows, Norton or even SETI load upgrades without my checking what they do; Java and Adobe are always trying to sneak alien toolbars in with their upgrades, and must be watched constantly. I don’t assign personalities to the various faces of the Interwebs (I’m pretty sure Kage did) – but it can be personally annoying when my trusted connections get freaky.
WordPress, my blogging host, has been updating itself. Appearances, meh – who cares? But suddenly it’s hard to find the routes to certain functions, and all the alterations came without instructions or warning. Yestreday, in fact, I couldn’t get into the system at all – which spoiled my 2105 record to date. Today, I can get in but I really had to search for the button/link/synapse that led to my dashboard. And no, thank you, I do not want to learn a new system just when I sit down to compose …
Also, I seem to be coming down with an influenza. That will make the second time this year. And I had my flu shot, too – the CDC now admits that it may be only 20% effective, though, which means that 4 out of 5 strains now circulating may not be covered … and I seem to be catching them all.
The wonders of science, all right. Just as Kage always suspected.