The first time my family fully embraced technology—like, really got it—was the day we purchased a Roomba vacuum cleaner. Our previous workhorse was a standard upright Hoover, the kind with the rough cloth catchall bag and the headlight that flickered dim against sharp overhead lighting. The Hoover sputtered and churned, resisting my gawky teenage arms; my mother sat, deep in the throes of an infomercial infatuation. Only days after the Roomba's television debut, the little robot appeared on our doorstep.
The Roomba was about the size of a wheel hub, fully equipped with tools, sensors, brushes and bumpers. I remember setting up the small pods that cued the Roomba's path. We giddily established parameters to ensure that the little disc wouldn't take a tumble down the stairs or, worse, vacuum itself right out the door and down the street.
We clapped when the Roomba took its inaugural lap around our living room, and we followed it around the house, brimming with grins and gaiety. For weeks, each time a scheduled cleaning occurred, we watched, giggled and analyzed. Vacuuming went from a chore to an experience that elicited ovation.
Now, well into adulthood and in my own home, I've also made an investment in automation. After 15 years of scooping litter, newspaper pellets and pine chips out of various plastic boxes, domes and bowls, I bought an automatic litter box, the CatGenie. When the parcel arrived, I delicately ran my fingers over the packing tape, opening the box as though it were an exquisite, divinized gift.
As I worked to unpack all the bits and bobs of my new contraption, I couldn't help but think about the Roomba. My family's infatuation with the vacuum eventually faded, impelled by each ever-gritty carpet patch and error beep. We ended up spending more time adjusting the little laser pods, redirecting the route and talking to tech support than we would have if we had simply hefted the Hoover. The day I started using the old vacuum to pick up after the robot's lackadaisical efforts, the Roomba was dead to me. Would this happen with my prized CatGenie, too?
After the litter box was assembled, my fears slowly began to dissipate: Unlike me, my cats don't ponder why humans are drawn toward the futuristic and inventive. They don't worry about being ahead of the technology curve, or whether or not automatic machines are better than human hands. They don't debate efficiency versus quality, and they've never seen The Jetsons, so they're not waiting for the day that their meals come in a pill or that robots clean up after them. Sam, my oldest, merely knows that when the new contraption washes and dries his pellets, they're clean and warm. When he curls up on top of them and falls asleep, I trust that this decision was a good one. After all, Sam's the one who, so many years ago, finally batted the Roomba down the stairs.