Rise of the Machines

By Les Firestein   |   June 25, 2020

Give Me My “Dumb” Stuff Back; I’m tired of Getting Narked Out by my Printer

I love tech and wireless convenience as much as the next guy. In fact I used to enjoy going to people’s houses – okay, even real estate open houses – finding the Alexa and saying, “Hey Alexa, buy Les Firestein a Rolex. Send overnight. Confirm purchase.” But sadly, now that this is yet another pastime on permanent hold due to COVID, I’ve had to find new wireless pleasures.

Like you, I spend a lot of time online tithing for Jeff Bezos, and would be so proud if my 1-Click was the precise cresting point that got Jeff’s personal wealth to $1 trillion. I’m guessing there’d be a photo op with drone-delivered balloons and some 1-Clickerati. Maybe a Zoom with Jeff himself from his personal space station. Whereupon I could personally thank Mr. Bezos for getting the entire world’s labor force so in lock step that the plastic popsicle molds I ordered from remote China get to me ten times faster than my stimulus check.

A big part of my 1-Click addiction (aClicktion?) i.e. my Quarantine Useless Stuff Budget goes to things I already owned that worked fine, but which I zombie-like replace with worse junk that’s wi-fi enabled. For example, with my old “analog” salter you had to manually invert the cylinder holding the salt, and physically shake it. The result was, yeah, you could salt food in a very brutal and primitive, ham fisted and not Bluetooth-enabled kind of way. But this archaic process brought with it a whole raft of problems, like carpal tunnel, potentially dropping the salt shaker, lawsuits and liability, etc. Not to mention the indignity that my old analog shaker had no way of informing Alexa when I was out of salt – I had to do that myself. WTF?

Thankfully along came “Smalt,” and no, that’s not a typo or joke. Smalt is a “smart” wifi enabled salt shaker that, yes, communicates with Alexa and all my other things (yo, Nest, whassap?). It also has a Bluetooth loudspeaker and mood light (can the mood light be tied to my health app? What color is “my blood sugar is crashing”?) Oh, and did I mention that as a bonus Smalt will also grind the salt for me? In fact Smalt will grind my salt to any coarseness I desire from broken Prada storefront shards all the way down to lab grade cocaine manufactured by Merck. 

Oh, and I almost forgot. If I want a pre-measured “pinch,” all I have to do is download the Smalt app, find a place for its icon on my home screen, keep the phone at the table, which is fine, because everyone else is on their phones anyway. Then if I just navigate through a couple of user-friendly scroll-down menus, hit “dispense” and, assuming my app is updated, my credit card isn’t expired, my phone is charged, and I have signal – Voila! Out comes perfectly ground pink Himalayan non-iodized salt from Bhutan!! What could possibly be easier?!

However, as much as I’ve been enjoying the much ballyhooed “Internet of Things,” I have to admit that, cruising around Amazon recently (not the river one but the actual one), I may have reached my personal tipping point when I came across a “smart” coffee table for $1,300. First of all, how smart does a coffee table really need to be? It needs to hold a drink and a book I want people to think I’m reading. Some magazines. And maybe a laptop. It doesn’t really require that much “smarts.” A coffee table’s sole task is literally implied by its name: hold coffee, be a table.

The Sobro (So, bro?) smart coffee table features all the usual WiFi suspects: USB ports, the ever-present LED “mood” lights, a thing called a “dongle” that sounds obscene but is actually tedious. It has a pair of speakers, as does everything these days including my sunglasses and keys, but oddly no subwoofer which would have made actual sense because the Sobro sits on the floor. Guess we’ll just have to wait for the Sobro 2.0.

Other than the subwoofer omission, the Sobro is a coffee table with almost the kitchen sink; it actually does contain one kitchen item: no, not a warming pad for your coffee or hot toddy (Sobro 3.0) but a refrigerator drawer which is probably its most useful function other than supporting my stinky feet. Just make sure your stinky feet don’t hit the touchscreen on your Sobro or it may set off a cold war between your things and crash the whole Shangri-la.  

If the truth be known, my preference with things – and people for that matter – is that they NOT attempt to do too much. Just do a great job at one thing. If my gastroenterologist showed up at my house and said, “Hey, I was in the neighborhood and did you know I also clear clogs in the home?” He’d no longer be my gastroenterologist, nor would he be my plumber.

As an analogy, think about the Swiss Army knife. It’s not a great knife. Nor is it a great screwdriver. Corkscrew, leather punch, tweezer, toothpick, thumb drive – they’re all meh. Have you ever asked yourself, if the ubiquitous Swiss Army multitasking tool is so darned good, why does the Swiss Army never engage in international conflict?

It could be the knife. Or maybe it has something to do with that more recent debacle of military history, the Swiss Army Gun. It’s also a cigarette lighter! And it’s a vape! It’s a digital no-contact forehead thermometer! It’s WiFi-enabled!


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