Messages from machines

If your refrigerator could talk, what would you want it to say? Maybe: You have only two eggs left; if you plan to fix omelets on Saturday morning, you'd better buy more. That would be handy.

Mine would be more likely to make remarks on the OJ that was spilled weeks ago and still hasn't been wiped up or to broadcast how many days those ULOs (unidentified leftovers) have been languishing on the back of the bottom shelf.

Actually, Amana has developed a talking fridge. It doesn't warn you when you're getting low on milk, but does tell you when to change your air and water filters. If the electric power goes out, it tells you for how long. The company also touts the refrigerator's ability to "let you leave voice messages for other household members with the touch of a button." It's a nice idea, but I think I'll stick with Post-It notes.

Maybe the chatty fridge is related to a hotel elevator I rode recently in Sarasota, Fla. It announced the floor number loudly each time the door opened. I understand the usefulness to someone with a sight problem, but how annoying if your room were nearby.

Machinery doesn't actually have to "talk" to be irritating.

A car I rented last weekend was sure I was driving without my seat belt fastened, so it let me know – loud and long – with a continuous ding-ding-ding. The trouble was: It was wrong. I was stopped outside a grocery store and had the car in Park, so it wasn't moving an inch. And I had simply removed my seat belt for a moment to reach something on the passenger-side floor.

I'm not sure why engineers and designers think that the world needs inanimate objects talking to people or pointing out their faults. As far as I'm concerned, the best machines are strong and silent.

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