My grandmum spoke for us all that Christmas when she opened her gift from my aunt and uncle. She only half-unwrapped the box before launching it at my father across the room, crabbing “Now what in the hell am I supposed to do with THIS?” She proceeded to sulk, the way only my eighty-year-old gram can, arms crossed, lips pursed, but laughing the whole time despite herself.
My aunt and uncle had done the extreme disservice of buying my gram an answering machine. Yes, the woman who once told my sister that she never leaves my sister messages because “they never give you enough time before that little beep” was now the proud owner of one of those “damn things.”
Gram is the head of my family of almost-technophobes—by the “almost” I mean that we’re not so much afraid of the changes new technology brings, but we’re often afraid of changing our technologies. Perhaps it’s procrastination or stubbornness or raw fear, but there’s a reason we only just now got rid of our microwave, which made its first spectacular appearance in our lives in 1991.
I remember the day my mother, finger wagging, told us of the dangers of opening the door while the microwave was still running. Her point was not that it would be harmful to us, but rather that it would hurt the microwave, as though after being opened mid-cook, it would simply lose the will to go on. “I’m sorry,” it would say, “but why bother cooking anything for you people anymore? I mean, it’s not even cooking that you do with me, I just reheat the creations of other appliances— you’ve failed to use the ‘Quick and E-Z’ cookbook to simplify your lives and make hearty meals in a jiffy. You only use me to heat water for your kids’ hot chocolate, and...
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... to take over the TV such that we would only able to tune in Emeril and Martha Stewart, to the poor answering machine, who would tell callers that if they wanted to talk to the family, they’d have to clear it with the microwave first.
That’s not entirely different from what my own current answering machine does anyway. While my grandma has learned to adjust to hers, I’m still not entirely sold on mine. The answering machine in my apartment has a woman’s voice, soft but computery, the kind of voice one could imagine HAL’s wife would’ve had. It tells me very politely that “there are no new messages . . . Jill.” I imagine it will soon begin to dispense advice on my social life, explaining that I am a young, vibrant woman who should have messages. I imagine it will tell me to start by doing something to my hair, telling me it never really like my curling iron anyway.
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