The progressive kitchen

Someday soon, my refrigerator will be remote controllable from the Net. I can wait.

Published July 23, 2001 11:21PM (EDT)

This morning my Internet access was down again, so I called up AT&T Broadband. The technician said that they had been adding new service to my town for the benefit of the customer, which caused my modem to need adjustment. I whined, "Well, couldn't have somebody let me know, sent an e-mail or something?"

"No, we can't do that," he explained, "because people's modems fail sporadically, and people who are not technically literate would be panicking and calling us up, worried that they would lose their service. Besides, our system has 99.96 percent availability," the technician asserted. "It is rarely down. AT&T has invested in the latest in infrastructure."

We chatted while my modem rebooted. "You know," he remarked, "we are preparing to give stoves and refrigerators IP addresses. People will be linking up their household appliances to the Internet. If we don't invest in consumer technology, somebody else will. The demand is there. People love gadgets. People just eat technology up!"

I quashed any notion that I was one of the technically literate by asking: "Why would anybody want to connect their kitchen to the Internet?"

He replied, "People will be able to adjust the temperature of their refrigerator while at work. Or turn off the coffee maker remotely."

I thought of the stuff moldering in my refrigerator and cringed at the thought of remote control; I can't find the motivation to rid it of fuzzy overgrowth, never mind program it for optimal thermodynamic performance.

He continued his gleeful speculations. "Of course, that means that people will turn down the temperature of their refrigerators while at the office and overheat the motor. Or hackers will get into your stove while you are not home and burn down your house. Whole neighborhoods will burn down! There will be lawsuits!"

"I don't want to have my stove hacked," I sniveled. "I want my appliances to remain purely mechanical. If my cable modem is connected to my TV and my electronically locked fridge, then when my Internet service goes out, I won't be able to pry open my refrigerator door to get at my beer."

"But whole new industries will spring up," he reassured me. "Companies will build anti-stove-hacking software and firewalls for your refrigerator. You'll need virus protection for your house."

The pitch of his voice escalated along with his unbridled enthusiasm.

"Of course, new viruses are always coming along. But when even we techies rush into the concrete bunkers, you will know it is time to get out!"

Just then my modem came back online.

Snickering, the technician collected himself and then professionally intoned, "Thanks for calling AT&T Broadband. Have a nice day."

I hung up, curiously grateful that my old fridge hadn't stopped humming the whole time.

By Wendy Wolfson

Wendy Wolfson is a high-tech public relations consultant in Somerville, Mass. and a commentator for WBUR, the Boston affiliate of National Public Radio.

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