A woman modifies her smart fridge so that instead of an AI, her mother may be with her in her house.
Th relahip between mother and daughter develops and undergoes some crisis as the caring fridge begins to articulate truly motherly concerns.
How emotive do we wish the interaction to domestic systems to become? How much of our independence are we willing to give up for this “good care”?
My work about using objects as proxies for virtual encounters also includes a short story about a smart fridge turning all too human:
»Madeleine was staring at the fridge. Fiercely.
And this wasn't at all due to the fact that there was nothing else to look at. On the contrary: from her 10th floor apparent with frameless crystalline windows which even had a digital zoom function in case someone felt the sentimental desire to bring closer a sunset – let alone somebody else's revealing panorama window – she could literally see whole Paris. However, Madeleine was not looking out of the window. She was starring at the fridge.
The fridge was so damn white and clean, it annoyed her. The glazing of the door was shimmering, not glossy and not mat, something in between, maybe “satin-gloss” was the best way to put it. Yes that was it: Satin - an indifferent, professional sort of shimmer. It reminded her of a business shirt. The fridge was just doing it's job. Or was it?
It was true, that at this very moment that Madeleine was staring at the fridge, she was thinking of her husband Stephane. It was a habit that had developed over months, certainly encouraged by the frequent absence of her workaholic artist partner. At this point, Stephane and the fridge had merged in her head as if his soul wandered between two bodies – one of flesh and bone, and one of glass boards, cooling liquids and sensors.
Bemused, Madeline was scratching behind her ear – when out of nowhere, a blazing triangle was popping up in front of her. Apparently the pondering gesture had triggered it to come to Madeleine's aid. “Anthropomorphism”, the sonorous voice of the domestic counselor declared, dramatically pausing before continuing with a more explicit definition:
“Anthropomorphism describes the tendency to imbue the real or imagined behavior of nonhuman agents with human-like characteristics, motivations or emotions.”1
Annoyed Madeleine tried to swiped away the triangle, but she had to slide her hand multiple times through the projection until this idiotic software registered her attempt. Disgusting. Anthropomorphism? But it was more than that: Stephane was actually communicating through this device, and she was talking back. It had started one day – her husband visiting an art fair in Pyongyang - when she had found a little package in front of her house door. The note on the top said:
“I checked my boards and found them almost empty. Thought you might enjoy some food this evening. Love, Mr Fridge.”
It had contained some smoked Surimi Steak, bread and Pinot Bleu. The fridge – equipped with everything a device should provide these days: camera, temperature- and scent-sensors as well as a WiFi-antenna – was remotely accessible, allowing Stephane to “be there for her” in another appearance. Soon they had developed a game from this: the delivery service getting permission to »enter the house and secretly letting products appear in the fridge, Madeleine arranging food carefully on the shelves and creating little smell-compositions, the light inside twinkling slightly as if it was just waking up when she was opening the door, she baking a cake and putting it inside when Stephane could not be there for his birthday.. many situations that had felt good and very different from typing a message, or interacting by putting on some AR2-retina-lenses and to meet each other at some hybrid-space date like so many people did these days.
She had not told her friends about this. Maybe, because it felt too intimate, or just because she was afraid of not being able to explain what it was that soothed her about the the idea to meet Mr Fridge when she got home. It had something to do with the fact that it belonged to “her world” as she would call it. But then, what did not belong to her world? Actually a lot of the things in her house: the digi-bill was piling up, steadily but invisibly, all of her friends or even brief encounters that could appear on one of the screen-windows at any given moment, her health insurance speaking to her from her mirror one morning and suggesting to use a different tooth paste.
A lot of technology these days were promoted to be “seamlessly integrated into your wold”, and thus becoming friends3 but often this would come with a certain nuisance (that had nothing to do with the taste of the new toothpaste), as she felt intruded by them without a possibility to react.
It was not until now that she had understood the difference. She looked at the dancing little letters on her backhand – Skinput4, another interface that seemed awkwardly close to her – and read again what Stephane had doodled a few minutes ago: “Good evening darling, I'm on my way. I can't wait to see you.” There was only one thing wrong about this message, written on her skin: It was not meant to be sent to her. Stephane was officially attending a lecture in Rome.
Instead of pulling on her index finger in order to activate the reply function, Madeleine stood up from the couch, whit a scornful gesture wiped down the Skinput-Message and walked over to the drawer where she kept the household tools. She took out the Iron (wirelessly power supplied) and turned around to the Fridge. Slowly turning up the temperature until it reached the maximum position (Cotton), she walked up to Mr Fridge, opened him and put the steaming and spitting Iron on the highest shelf.
The plastic edge of the glass board melted, producing a sharp stench. She grabbed a bottle of wine from the inside, slammed the door shut. And with a rather grim satisfaction she spilled a dark red stream over the shirt of Mr Fridge.«
- exerpt of my thesis "OBSCURE READER"
© 2018 Jonas Althaus