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Waiting For Dave (As Told By His Lamp)

Filed by KOSU News in Science.
July 11, 2011

Some of you are going to look at this video — the story of a young guy named Dave (that’s Dave in the picture just above) who’s on his way home to an apartment where his stove, lights, vacuum cleaner, microwave and fireplace are feverishly anticipating his return, and you’re going to say, “Ahhhhh, let me be Dave. If only I could have a place wired like his.”

Others of you are going to want to take a sledgehammer to every lamp, toaster, vacuum cleaner and microchip in the place — and perhaps to Dave.

I don’t know which side of the Dream Technology Divide you are on, but trust me, this is a polarizing video.

Take a look. It’s short. Three minutes. Then we’ll talk.

Spoiler Alert! If you haven’t watched the video yet, don’t ruin it for yourself. Don’t read beyond this point. Because in the next paragraph I’m going to say what I think and I don’t want you to be contaminated by one guy’s opinion, even if it’s my own and this is my blog.

OK.

What is wrong with this video?

Aside from Dave’s haircut, his standing order to “block” his girlfriend Sophia (Shall we “unblock” Sophia? asks his smarmy computer), and his preference for godawful-looking Chinese food. Anything else?

Well, yes.

There is something about Dave’s apartment that makes my skin crawl.

Which is weird, because this is an ad. It comes from Sweden’s telecommunications giant Ericsson (makers of “Bluetooth”), and this is their version of a near future where machines, like Stepford wives, are there to help you, protect you, soothe you, feed you.

And yet … there is something so “off” about this bachelor paradise.

For one thing, the bachelor. Dave is not cool. He’s cold.

He, the only living creature in the place, is detached, self-satisfied and strangely unaware that he’s being coddled.

The appliances, on the other hand, are the warm ones. Maybe not as warm as the fabulous Rosie (Rosie, you may remember, is the robot maid from The Jetsons who’d been rescued from a junk pile, so she had a back story, a reason to be fierce and loyal), but in Rosie’s spirit, Dave’s machines are emotionally alive, crazy for Dave, and vulnerable. Dave is the robot.

That’s not only creepy. It’s a strange way to celebrate technology.

As the folks at Ericsson must know, machines don’t feel. People feel. This ad flips the truth, and I’m wondering why.

Dave Says Yes To TV, No To Sophia

Well, here’s a clue: Dave’s decision to spend the night with his machines instead of a person (the willowy Sophia). Do the folks at Ericsson want us to choose their products (called “Friends” on his computer screen) over flesh and blood companions? Is that what this ad is advertising?

Machines won’t laugh or flirt or challenge Dave. “The real demands of friendship, of intimacy, are complicated. They’re hard,” says MIT sociologist Sherry Turkle. Choosing TV over Sophia is what lots of young folks do these days, Turkle says. They choose technology to hide from real (and difficult) social intercourse.

So, summing up, you know what’s wrong with this ad?

It’s wrong about machines.

It’s wrong about people.

It’s wrong about values.

It’s wrong about men’s hair.

That’s one man’s opinion.

You?

Send me your thoughts.

Sherry Turkle’s new book on technology and alienation is called Alone Together (Basic Books, 2011). he appears — along with a host of others — on Radiolab’s recent show about human/machine confusions. [Copyright 2011 National Public Radio]

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