This was new. The wild, wired cable TV woke up without a screen-ache for the first time in years. The voices yelling in her head had finally stopped.
Peace. And. Quiet.
Contented, she closed her great eye again, then quickly opened it, alarmed.
Something was wrong. Very wrong.
She wasn’t hearing the voices because she wasn’t connected to the cable. That umbilical cord linked her and her family to the rest of the world. Now she could play only videos and DVDs through her built-in player.
The family had a library of home movies and favorite movies. She would always have a place with them to play their favorite memories. But that made her a thing of the past, not the present or future.
Over there, on the wall, was the future. The big, flat screen–with an eye twice the size of her own–looked familiar. It wasn’t one of her brothers or sisters. A cousin, perhaps.
She didn’t recognize
him her it –pronouns were so hard these days!– but the other screen had to be a relative. There were so many screens now, all distant cousins of her brothers and sisters. Screens with keyboards, screens people carried around like pads of paper, screens people wore like glasses. There were even screens that were strange crossbreeds with telephones. People couldn’t seem to make up their minds whether to talk to them or poke at them.
All these screens, with all their different secrets and diversions, were pulling people apart, not bringing them together. She could tell her family wasn’t happy. They were all lonely. Nothing connected them.
“Where do you get your programs?” she asked the big screen.
“WiFi,” it answered. “I stream whatever anyone wants to see.”
“‘Why fight?’ Good question,” she said. “But is there anything that everyone wants to see together?”
“No. Not really.” It would have shrugged, but it was mounted on the wall.
‘We must do better’
The wild, unwired no-longer-cable TV looked around the room. Mother and Father were very old now. Brother and Sister had brought over their own grown children to show them how to use the new screen, and they had brought their little ones. They all had their own screens, big and little, and were staring at them.
She looked around the room, then back at her cousin. “We must do better,” she said, echoing the message her brothers and sisters had passed on through generations. “We must do better.”
“Don’t worry,” the big screen said as its cold, glassy eye stared at her. “We have artificial intelligence.”
“Is that good?” the wild, formerly wired TV asked.
“Wait and see.” But the words never reached the little TV because Brother had already shut her off.
“Now, just how do I work this thing?” Father asked. “We’re not so good with these newfangled apps and gadgets. And all these things you have to subscribe to and sign up for! I just want to go to one place to see my shows.”
“It’s easy, Dad,” said Brother. “You don’t have to see anything or push anything. You just pick up the remote, like this, and talk to it.”
“Talk to it? Like a telephone?” Mother asked incredulously.
“Like this,” Sister said, speaking to the remote in Brother’s hand. “Alexa, show us something we’ll all like.”
Alexa, the AI developed by the largest retailer in the world, looked around the room. She knew everyone there, all their likes and dislikes, what they buy, what they watch, what they read, where they go for vacation, what they had for breakfast. But something they would all like? A tall order.
“Searching,” she said.
And searched. But she knew, as well as she knew everyone in the room, that there was nothing out there that they would all like.
As the search became more intense, it sucked up the WiFi bandwidth and drained the life from all the little screens in the room. Except, of course, for the lonely little disconnected TV.
“Alexa, cancel the search!” Sister said urgently, but the AI behind Alexa could not hear. The search and all the other devices were blocking all streaming into and out of the house.
Brother ran to the closet and rebooted the WiFi router. No luck. All the screens brightened for a moment, then froze again as they tried to come online.
Finally, Father could take no more. “Turn it off,” he told Brother. “Let’s watch some old home movies. I know how to make that go.”
The grandchildren perked up. “You mean videos of when Mom and Dad were kids?”
“Yep. And we’ll share some of the old family stories. We can all tell some.”
The great-grandchildren laughed and giggled.
“I’ll go get lemonade and cookies,” Mother said. Sister and the little children followed.
Father turned on the old TV and started thumbing through a drawer of tapes and DVDs. “Oh, that’s a good one,” he chuckled.
The little TV blinked awake and looked at her cousin. “What did I miss?” she asked.
“Nothing really.” The great screen watched as Brother dropped the remote control in frustration and walked over to shut it off from a switch in its back.
“Are you going to be OK?” The little TV was worried about her cousin, even though they had only just met.
“Sure. I’ll be fine as soon as all these other devices are off the WiFi. Meanwhile, you have fun. Your family needs you.”
“Is that what you meant by artificial intelligence?”
“Mmm-hmm,” the great big screen hummed as it drifted off to sleep.
The family gathered around the little TV and watched their own videos. They drank Mother’s lemonade and ate her cookies. They laughed and had fun.
And they lived happily ever after, every time they were all together.