• Jeff Fox: Totally plugged in, and regretting it

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  • I’m not really ready for a web-enabled toothbrush, but I doubt I’ll have much choice.
    We’re told that we’re on the verge of what’s called the Internet of things. Currently the planet has three smart species – humans, dolphins and phones – but that’s expected to change quickly, radically and irreversibly.
    Soon enough your refrigerator will not only be smart but plugged in. No, not just plugged into the wall but plugged into the Internet, chirping out handy data as needed.
    It would, for example, alert you when that little inside light is about to burn out. That would be helpful.
    Of course, in theory, the fridge could chirp to a droid that would go to the hardware store, find the bulb, stand in line and pay, let itself into your home, replace the bulb, filch a beer and leave. From a certain perspective, that’s the full flowering of the Internet and a tremendous saving of labor and hassle for We the Humans. Paradise.
    But we know where this goes.
    The other day I read of the web-enabled toothbrush. The idea is it would give you oral hygiene tips and sports scores while you brush.
    It also entirely changes a key social dynamic.
    Dental hygienist: So, have we been flossing regularly?
    Patient: Of course.
    Hygienist: And brushing twice a day?
    Uneasy patient: Uh, let’s go with yes.
    Hygienist: Well, why don’t we just call up the data? ... Hmm. The patterns indicate you mean well but do not consistently follow through. And what exactly were you doing from the third through the ninth of June?
    Congratulations. You’ve taken a step toward what is called “the quantified self.” The nagging dread of half-kept obligations is replaced with the certainty of solid, unforgiving data. I’m hard pressed to understand how this improves the human condition.
    It’s been another long day. You finally get home. You loosen your tie and flop into the La-Z-Boy. After weather and sports, you click around, looking for Johnny Carson.
    Then you realize he’s gone and so is Leno and you were making an attempt to like Jimmy Fallon, and where do the years go anyway? Fair enough. Entertain me for a moment, joke boy, for then I must sleep.
    A high, whining voice – metallic and artificial, but familiar – breaks into the room. It’s from down the hall, and it’s the toothbrush.
    “Put down the Cheetos, and come spend a little time with me,” it says. “Or I’ll tell.”
    There is, of course, only one response.
    “Yes, dear.”
    Contact Jeff Fox at 816-350-6313 or jeff.fox@examiner.net. Follow him on Twitter @FoxEJC or @Jeff_Fox.