Magazine article The Spectator

Hugo Rifkind: We're Swamped with Nonsense Gizmos and It's All Steve Jobs's Fault

Magazine article The Spectator

Hugo Rifkind: We're Swamped with Nonsense Gizmos and It's All Steve Jobs's Fault

Article excerpt

I keep being told that the big hot technological gizmo of the moment is a box that sits in the corner of your room and listens, and I don't want one. They're made by Amazon, largely, and the idea is that you tell them to order stuff -- such as a pizza, say -- by shouting: 'Alexa! Order me a pizza!' And Alexa, which is what the thing pretends to be called in this infantile, accommodating, psychotic age of ours, perks up and does so. Or orders books, or summons a taxi. Or it gets your phone to call somebody, or plays you a particular song. The rest of the time it just squats there. Silent. Waiting. Listening.

It sounds like a disaster waiting to happen. Probably you'd put it in the kitchen, and probably you don't often have sex in the kitchen. If you did, though, exactly how confident would you be that the noise you were going to make at the point of orgasm would sound nothing like a request for Alexa to immediately telephone your great-aunt? I mean, sure, it's a minor risk, but isn't life already fraught enough? Not interested. And yes, I know I could already talk to my smartphone like this, but I don't do that either. Nobody does, more than once. Not after the first time they ask Siri 'Which way is home?' and Siri starts dialling Ann Widdecombe. Which admittedly may not have happened to everyone.

I also don't want a driverless car. Does anybody? It's not about the safety, but the boredom. The whole concept takes the thrill of the open road, the knightly freedom of metal managed by man, and threatens to turn it into the Docklands Light Railway. I'm not a big fan of long car journeys but they're a damn sight more bearable if you at least get to drive the car. Imagine being driven up to Edinburgh in a driverless car. Seven hours of nothing. You'd feel like that poor Chinese lady who got stuck in the lift.

Or a 3D printer. Totally don't get the point. I tried one out a few months ago. I fed in a program, and it took three hours and made the whole house stink, and at the end all I had was a shit little black plastic boat. And sure, I know you can use them to make other things, too -- widgets, firearms, Ikea flangey hoopdongs -- but for all the hassle involved, you might as well just pay somebody with a lathe to do it properly. Nobody needs one of these unless they live on a space station. And you don't.

I don't want a fridge which emails me to say that it is empty. I will realise the fridge is empty when I take the last thing out of it. Is this strategy terribly analogue? I don't want Google glasses, but then nor did anybody else. The whole concept of 'wearable tech' leaves me quite cold. …

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