When I was a kid I was convinced that we (humanity) would have robots to clean our houses by now. I pictured a happy future where there is no vacuuming, laundry folding, where floors mop themselves, and fridges get stocked without any effort. Where our energies as human beings can be best directed towards leisure and hobbies, and thinking up new ways to do less chores. Why did I have this utopia in my head? Because over a span of a few years I watched my mother’s load (and mine) get lighter as unthinkable luxuries became commonplace.
I’ll never forget the moment when we got our brand new washing machine. It was just a little guy, probably a third of the size of today’s hippos, and you could forget washing say, sheets or comforters in it, but I clearly remember doing a first load of cloth diapers and blankies that belonged to my little brother (no Pampers in Russia), and the magic of that moment can be imagined by anyone who’s ever washed laundry by hand.
Even though we certainly had a fridge, it was the old model that you had to unplug and de-ice every week, so when we graduated to a frost-free fridge it was a blissful feeling of pure joy – again mainly for my mother, as she could say good-bye to the ritual of removing everything from the freezer, thawing and chipping at the four-inch layer of crud and starting the cycle over again.
Since doing the dishes was my (much hated) job as a kid, my personal nirvana came when we finally got a dishwasher. I must have been about fourteen, and I don’t think anyone has ever been happier that such a piece of magic was here to replace twice daily toil of washing a mountain of dishes.
It seems like my parents generation got a huge boon in technology that really went a ways in making their lives better and easier. From all the household appliances, TV’s, stereos, microwaves, vacuums and blenders there was a sense of excitement in the air as life around the house got easier and less time-consuming. I gave free reign to my imagination trying to picture MY house which seemed oh so far away, and picturing all the wonders I was sure to have, if the rate of progress is any indicator.
So now I have that house. But where is our revolution? Where are our self-cleaning floors, de-clutter machines and laundry folders? Sure we got ipods and blackberries, but they seem to steal time more than free it. I still spend huge amounts of time each week vacuuming, doing laundry, picking up stray socks and dishes that migrate. Seems like since the early appliance revolution we’ve been stagnant on the household chores front. Sure everything’s been refined, and now our fridges are quiet and problem-free. Our washers and dryers are huge and all powerful. Our dishwashers rarely need a hand, and they use less energy than doing dishes by hand. But there hasn’t been a really new advance in shrinking the dreaded chores list since then.
I know that there are fridges out there that scan bar codes and let you know when you’re out of milk. Just in case it’s hard to check manually. I HAVE the Roomba vacuum robot, which is a relatively useful gimmick, but not even remotely close to an actual robot. (In case anyone cares – yes, it vacuums. All by itself. BUT, there’s always a but, he requires daily gross filter and brush cleaning. The floor still has to be clutter free for him to be effective, he is rather loud, he will never clean as deep as my built-in, he takes quite a long time to finish the job. So he’s good for light maintenance, but not at all for real cleaning). And I still long for the day when i-robots are a reality. I’ll take my chances on their desire for autonomy, if it means never having to clean again.
Here is a plea for members of my generation that are all about da engineering and such. Lets liberate ourselves once and for all from the time-consuming and brain deadening chores of housework. Let’s stop building dog robots (Japan, I’m talking to you here), and put our dollars into something really useful. Let’s usher in the era of time where after work we can go home to a clean house without a single thing to be put away, wiped down, organized or fixed. Surely as a species we’re smart enough to do this, it’s just a matter of priorities. Someone else can look for the dryer-eaten socks and dust baseboards.
And to anyone who’s reading: what’s your most dreaded household chore?