By Roz Rogoff
The Real RobotsUploaded: Feb 9, 2014
My microwave oven died on me yesterday. Aww. I had the old girl for 17 years. I bought it in Wards in Dublin when I moved to San Ramon in 1997. It was a brand I never heard of before, Samsung. I took a chance on it because it was cheap, under $60, and compact, and had a lot of features. I figured if it lasted a year or two I got my money's worth.
It was showing signs of senility for a couple of weeks. Strange settings would appear in the power window, but it went back to normal when I pushed the cancel button. Finally yesterday it wouldn't reset. I unplugged it and plugged it back in an hour later That erased the wrong setting, but none of the buttons worked. It was declared dead at 10:55 am. It had a long and cookful life. Now like all old things that don't work anymore, it goes to the junk heap for WALL-E to add to his collection.
Last night I reheated my leftovers in a pot. IN A POT! I was so spoiled by that microwave. Then I started to remember what life was like before microwaves, before so much of what we take for granted these days.
I remembered my mother and grandmother defrosting our old refrigerator. This was necessary every month or two. They switched it off or unplugged it and removed all the food from the inside. After a few hours mother would slide out trays of ice water and try to get them to the sink without sloshing the water onto the kitchen floor. Then she would put the trays back and all of the food into the refrigerator, close the doors, and plug it back in. I think it was a Frigidaire, but it might have been a GE.
My Great Aunt Laura, my Grandmother's youngest sister, had one of the original GE Refrigerators from 1928 with the motor on the top. I don't remember ours having the motor on top, but it was built like Aunt Laura's with 4" thick doors and walls and a very small ice compartment that held a couple of ice trays. These were really plug-in ice boxes. The Ice man didn't comith, but we had a milk man and a bread man instead.
Mother's cooking stove was the original gas stove she brought when she married my father in 1936. It did not have pilot lights. She had to light each burner and the oven with a match to use it. It was green and cream enamel with four or six burners and a small oven with a broiler below it and bread warmer above. Those stoves are very collectable now.
In 1955 or '56 mother had the kitchen remodeled with dual built in refrigerators that looked nice but didn't work very well. In between them we had a roll out freezer drawer. That was pretty wiz bang for the day, but the top prize was the Kitchen Aid Dish Washer. This was one of the original home dishwashers, but it wasn't very useful because we practically had to wash the dishes before putting them into the dishwasher.
I remember the fuss my father made over our first popup toaster. Our original toaster was a flattened pyramid with a door on each side to put the bread in. Half way through you had to remember to turn the bread around or one side would burn while the other side would be uncooked. I took that toaster apart years ago for some scientific experiment that I've since forgotten. It's probably collectible now too.
We take all of these appliances for granted now. My refrigerator never needs defrosting. It's just there doing its chill thing. My stove never needs lighting. It's electric, but I can use any kind of cookware on it. I don't have to prewash my dishes before putting them in the dishwasher, and my toast comes out perfect with just a push of a lever.
The term "Robot" was originated by Czech author Karel Capek in 1920 for the play R.U.R. (Rossum's Universal Robots). The play depicted artificial humans who performed repetitive tasks humans wouldn't do. The word "Robot" was based on a Czech word meaning "drudgery."
Capek's robots looked like humans, but later robots, real and imagined looked like mechanical arms on auto assembly lines or R2D2, but some like C3PO, still resembled people. C3PO was the robot butler of 1970s Science Fiction in which 21st Century Americans would all be served by robots.
Well we are, but they don't look like mechanical people. They are shaped like microwave ovens, dishwashers, electric stoves, and refrigerators. Our appliances are the real robots, performing one or two repetitive tasks all day every day and never complaining (or hardly ever) about the drudgery.