Donate

Download audio (MP3)

Living in the Future
Brock Winstead's robot vacuum cleaner is evidence that the future is imperfect, too.

By Brock Winstead

I grew up with a rotary phone. Recently my sister-in-law accidentally video-called me from Australia. So I try to remind myself: we live in the future, and it's nice. But there are limits to my mindful gratitude for our technology.

I learned this from my robot vacuum.

Every afternoon, it scurries around the house, navigating doors and furniture, swallowing dirt and, especially, cat hair. Then it rolls back to its charger, toots a triumphant little fanfare and rests until next time.

At least, that's how it's meant to work. The reality isn't quite so futuristic.

For one thing, it's awful at maneuvering. It gets stuck on rugs, in curtains, under chairs. It's also not great at vacuuming. It'll pass over a little piece of debris and just push it a few inches away. With the time I have to spend cleaning up after it and rescuing it from misadventures, I'm not sure it qualifies as a labor-saving device.

Then there's the noise.

It makes a grinding, whirring sound way out of proportion to its size. It drives me from the room. See, I work from home, which I can do, because I live in the future.

As a parent might say: I'm not angry, just disappointed.

This device, right out of sci-fi visions of our future, doesn't deliver. Its incessant whir is the keening of unrealized potential. It takes a space-age dream and dashes it to tiny bits, which it then fails to clean up.

Maybe our robot vacuum resents its treatment - confined under the bed, not cleaned as often as it should - and its poor performance is a protest. But more likely than spiteful disobedience is that I've expected too much of it. Because we're not really living in the future. We're living in the present, which is still pretty nice: intercontinental video calls, streaming film libraries, life-saving medical advancements. I live way better than a king. I live like a magical space emperor.

So I should probably cut the robot vacuum some slack. He'll get there one day, in the future.

With a Perspective, I'm Brock Winstead.

Brock Winstead works in communications and marketing for a start-up. He lives in Oakland.

Become a KQED sponsor

Audio Archive

Episodes by Date

Calendar is loading...
Loading...