Tuesday, March 24, 2009

I'm a sissy. My three-year-old daughter called me a "sissy" this morning. I don't know where she got the word, probably from a book, those tools of the devil! Maybe we should get her off those infernal things and back in front of the soul-numbing boob tube where she belongs.

She called me a sissy because at 6AM she kept pushing the little button on the little stuffed Easter bunny that sends it into a screeching, ear-wagging "song" of sorts. It drives me nutz, which she loves. "No! Nooooo! Make it stop!" I scream, as I thrust my head between the couch pillows. She thinks that's hilarious and squeals with delight every time, pushing the button over and over AND OVER... I love hearing her squeal and laugh like that, and maybe I am a sissy for it, but she can make that stuffed robot screech all day long if it keeps her laughing.

The Easter box is out of the attic, which is where the infernal singing robot-thing came from. It sits in that crate up in the rafters with its lifeless eyes, staring dead ahead at the other fluffy robots until the proper holiday rolls around and out it comes, happy as ever, wiggling its ears and bellowing out its dumb Easter song. In the Christmas box are similar toys: dancing penguins singing "Jingle Bell Rock", a little Teddy bear that reads The Night Before Christmas, and others. My sister has a six-foot tall Santa that has an entire repertoire. Hit the button and he'll sing and dance and ho-ho-ho for you all night. Pretty soon you just want to punch him right in the sugar plums.

It's my sister who sends us these things, and if it wasn't for the big Santa in her own living room I'd say she was trying to torture us. The book-reading Teddy creeps me out the most because it's just so real! (Ahh, that's what the world needs: robots that will do the reading for us.) I guess I prefer my household robots to be disconnected, faceless aliens, with little more than simple utilitarian qualities. (Hey robot! Get me a beer and vacuum the floor! Not light beer, you metal-minded moron -ALE!)

On the news this morning was this item, which I linked here months ago. Put guns on that thing and it will frighten the enemy back into the Stone Age, I imagine. For that matter, this would scare the enemy, too. But robot supermodels? Will never happen. Why? No sex appeal. Not yet anyway. And if you think there aren't a bunch of horny, geeky scientists out there in some Silicon Valley back alley working on robot prostitutes, you don't know how the world works. Weird.

What comes after the Information Age? The Robot Age, of course. We're almost there. Soon as they come up with a viable, sustainable power source, the world will change overnight. Here's another one: 5-foot-long robotic fish are currently patrolling the Mediterranean, looking for clues about the environment. Amazing.

And then things will really get spooky. I'm thinking of Super-Toys Last All Summer Long, the heartbreaking short story from the 60s by Brian Aldiss. (You can read it here in five minutes. I suggest you print it out on real paper.) It's heartbreaking because of the neutralizing of humanity that seems to accompany the arrival of robots. It's no coincidence that as the Information Age twitters us all apart, there will be people who will look to robots for companionship. I mean, real people are just so unreliable and problematic and distant, you know?

It could all just as well be called the "Artificial Age" with the "books" on screens and talking, singing toys taking the place of friends and artificial flavorings and artificial colorings and Alumawoods. I'm not sure they will ever be able to make a robot squeal and giggle believably. Or a robot with growing, silky hair and warm, soft skin, and alluring, finely-detailed eyes that can convey a mood with a millimeter-sized flick. Or even a robot with an amazing juvenile sense to joke that I'm a sissy.

Perhaps I am an old sissy, because I will reject the artificial people when they come knocking.