The Internet of Things – IoT – refers to everyday objects communicating with you and other devices via the Internet. As devices grow smaller and smarter, they gain the ability to communicate over the Internet until everything from your toothbrush to your toaster is connected 24/7. Gadgets of the not-too-distant future will be household aides chatting away with one another, working to serve you better. – Norton Antivirus, 2014.
According to Gartner, there will be 26 billion devices on the Internet of Things by 2020. According to ABI Research, 30 billion devices will be wirelessly connected to the Internet of Things by 2020. – Wikipedia, 2014.
Well, Mr. Smith, what do you think of our Smart Home?”
The realtor had just completed a demonstration of the technology available in White Oaks Manor. Each townhome came complete with a full array of the latest IoT devices that impressed George Smith. He was 35, and an avid member of the new tech generation. He was employed at a publishing firm that used advanced computer systems to distance itself from the competition. Still, he couldn’t believe the high level of sophistication built into the IoT.
As a prospective buyer, he didn’t want to appear too anxious. “I like it, Ms. Del Rio. All of these advanced communication devices must cost a fortune.”
The shapely brunette displayed her best flirty smile. “Please, call me Julia.”
He liked the smile and the flirt. “Only if you call me George.”
“Alright, George. First, we purchased hardware in bulk. Second, the installation of the technology was incorporated into the initial design, so those costs are already accounted for.”
She moved closer, looked up, and gave him a conspiratorial wink. “And third, I have great news for you. The first 25 buyers in White Oaks Manor will receive a full 15 percent discount off the suggested price. It’s our way of introducing this new technology to the residents of Glencoe.”
And your way of getting stagnant sales moving, George thought to himself. “So what would be the discounted price on this townhome?” he asked.
“The normal selling price for this model is $300,000. The discounted price is only $255,000,” she said.
George walked in a slow circle around the living room and took it all in. Two bedrooms, two full baths, a breakfast nook, an eat-in kitchen. And all those toys.
“What about the monthly service cost of the Internet connectivity?” he asked. “That’s got to be a hell of a router to allow the toaster, coffee pot, and treadmill to communicate with each other.”
Julia smiled and winked again. “The Internet installation and set-up is free. The first 12 months of service is included in the price. After that, it’s only $85 per month.”
George did some quick mental math. The prices were reasonable, considering the location. Glencoe was upscale and growing. Not to mention, all those toys.
“I have to think about it, Julia,” he said. “It’s a substantial investment. How about if I call you back when I’ve mulled it over?”
“That’s fine. But don’t wait too long. Three other associates from my home office offer these same discounts. We are scheduled to close on four Smart Homes next week.”
On the ride back to his condo in Wilmette, George pondered the possibilities. The townhome was much larger than his current residence. He would be able to cut 18 miles one way off his daily commute. Also, he could take the Metra to work instead of driving. The savings from gas and parking would help make up the difference in mortgage payments. He might have to withdraw some funds from his 401k to make it happen, but he was young enough to pay it back with interest.
George looked in the rear view mirror. He saw a handsome man, in shape, with a full head of brown hair that still held its color and luster. His brown eyes were still clear, his face still firm. He thought he was a good catch. And with this townhome to impress the ladies, like the fair Julia, he would be sitting on top of the world.
“My man,” he said to his reflection, “you’re going to buy a technology dream of the future.”
Two days later, he sat in a café with Julia. A bottle of chardonnay arrived for the special occasion. He was exuberant, and Julia went along for the ride.
His announcement was a mix of excitement and pride. “I’ve decided to invest in White Oaks Manor. I want to buy the townhouse you showed me.”
Julia’s face lit up. “That’s wonderful news. Congratulations. You made a wise choice and a solid investment.”
“Thanks. I think so, too. Can you handle selling my condo in Wilmette as well as the transaction on the townhome?”
George smiled as he saw the dollar figures dance in Julia’s eyes like the spinning wheel of a slot machine. He figured her double commission would enhance his chance for a date.
“Of course,” she said. “I’m grateful that you feel I can handle the job. I guarantee that you’ll be satisfied with my performance.”
George’s eyes roamed over the curvaceous realtor. “I’m already impressed.”
Julia smiled and flushed. “Thanks. That’s nice of you to say.”
Despite the uncertainty of the current real estate market, Julia was good to her word. She sold his condo in less than a month and maneuvered George through the purchase of the new townhome. She even found a financier that took the capital gains from the sale as the total down payment.
He moved in the first weekend of June, grateful for the warm and sunny weather that made the transition easier. Once the furnishings were settled, he spent the next few days learning all about the technology of his new home.
He had to admit, the IoT was truly incredible. A central CPU sat on a shelf in the living room. Only six-by-six-by three inches, the computer brain was extremely powerful. Messages from the other 17 smart devices were transmitted to the IoT, which served as a switchboard operator. A green flashing dot let George know that everything was operational.
Part of programming the IoT included naming it. Without much thought, George chose Rose – his late Mother’s name. His choice surprised him, given her oppressive nature and their rocky relationship. “But she’d like that,” he murmured as he continued with the set-up.
Rose spoke. Whenever it sent instructions to one of the smart devices, such as temperature control or turning on the oven, it would announce the instruction aloud. Knowing what the IoT did provided the homeowner with a sense of comfort. George thought the voice was too robotic. “They could have spent a few more bucks and given her a more realistic one,” he said as he connected the treadmill device to the bathroom scale.
He paused briefly when he realized he had referred to Rose as she. “Everyone does that,” he said. “She does sound like a female, and I did give her a female name.”
George allowed Rose to plan his meals, based on a survey he completed. The refrigerator would inform the CPU when supplies were low, and a grocery list appeared on George’s phone. Meals placed in the cold oven were hot and ready when he returned home from work.
The scale sent George’s daily weigh-in information to the treadmill, which would automatically adjust his workout to help him maintain the proper BMI. His toothbrush was programmed to inform him when he needed a new one. Rose would schedule doctor and dentist appointments when needed.
George felt on top of the world, finally in complete control of everything. He decided to invite Julia over to see all that he had accomplished.
One night after work he dialed up her cell phone. “Hi, Julia. This is George Smith.”
“I recognize your voice. How is everything?”
“Great. This IoT does more than I envisioned. I wondered if you would like to come by and see what things look like now that I have it all set up. How about dinner tomorrow night?”
“Okay. I think that would be doable,” she said. “What time should I be there?”
“Shall we say seven o’clock? I have a new vegetarian dish I want to try out. You game?”
“Sounds great. I’ll bring a bottle of white wine. See you about seven.”
George hung up the phone and smiled. Julia hadn’t hesitated at all. He rubbed his hands in anticipation as he headed to the kitchen to program in the meal plan.
“I don’t like her, Georgie.”
He froze mid-step. The voice was loud and clear. Only one person had ever called him Georgie. He turned and stared at Rose. “Did you say something to me?”
Silence. He shook his head and headed to the kitchen. He calculated how to double the menu when the voice spoke again.
“I don’t like her, Georgie. She’s no good.”
He stopped programming the oven. The voice was no longer robotic. It sounded exactly like his mother’s voice. He was certain the words emerged from the living room.
“This is insane,” he said as he stepped back into the living room. It felt surreal as he addressed the IoT once again.
“Did you say something to me? Are you talking to me?”
No reply. He walked over to Rose and entered a code that would repeat the last three instructions given. The robotic voice repeated the orders given to the vacuum, the treadmill, and the air conditioner. No mother’s voice, no Georgie, no mention of Julia.
He sighed. “I must be imagining things,” he said. “Working, moving, figuring out all these new gadgets. I’m stressed. I’ll have Rose schedule me for a full body massage tomorrow afternoon.”
The massage did wonders. When he arrived home at six, George felt more relaxed than he had for weeks. He had plenty of time for a shower and a change before Julia arrived.
A quick check on the oven raised his comfort level. The meal cooked as planned, and already filled the kitchen with scrumptious aromas.
The doorbell rang at seven o’clock sharp. He quickly ran his hands through his hair and opened the door.
Julia looked stunning — a snug red dress that accented curves, hair the color of sunset, a wonderful fragrance.
“You look amazing,” he said as he took the wine.
“Thanks. But I thought the IoT was amazing.”
They both laughed as they worked their way to the kitchen. Julia commented on the wonderful smells from the oven. Conversation flowed easily as they set the table for dinner.
“She’s a slut, Georgie. All she wants is money. I don’t like her.”
George stared at Julia, horrified. His clenched his hands as he waited for his guest to freak out. However, Julia continued to tell him about the sale she closed that afternoon.
She didn’t hear it, he thought.
However, she did sense a change. “Are you alright? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
“I’m fine,” he said. “Just distracted by your beauty.” He put on his best flirtation look.
Julia smiled and went on with her story. When the oven bell sounded, George grabbed two large mitts and pulled the dish out.
Julia took in an exaggerated whiff. “This smells delicious.”
“Ask her how many men she slept with last week, Georgie.”
He stared open-mouthed at his date. Once again, Julia had not heard his mother’s voice.
“George?” Julia asked. “Dinner?”
He smiled too hard and took up the ladle. He noticed Julia give him a wary sideways glance.
Oh no. Stay cool. Don’t blow it.
Dinner progressed uneventfully. He paid attention to what Julia had to say and made sure he didn’t dominate the conversation. He correctly surmised that the young lass liked to talk.
“That’s because she’s a self-centered slut, Georgie. Just ask her.”
George bit down hard to make sure his face didn’t change expression. Julia continued with her tale of a quirky friend.
“Want to ask what she wants for dessert, Georgie?”
“Enough,” he said. Then gasped when he realized he had spoken aloud.
“Wh-what?” Julia asked.
“Had enough dinner? Would you like seconds?” He knew he sounded lame. Julia’s look reinforced his fear. She thinks I’m weird. Damnit!
“I’m good,” she said. “Oh, look at the time. I hate to eat and run, but I have an early showing tomorrow morning.”
George didn’t hide his disappointed. “I hoped I could give you the grand tour, and show you what I have done with Rose.”
“Rose. That’s what I named the IoT.”
“You named the IoT?”
“Well, yes,” he said. “When you program the IoT, you have to give it a name.”
Julia frowned. “No, I don’t think so. They would have told us that during the demonstration.”
“I am sure of it.” He knew his tone sounded defensive. “It’s in the instructions. I can show it to you.”
Julia headed toward the living room, her senses on high alert. “Maybe next time.”
George sensed that there wouldn’t be a next time. He sighed. “Alright. I am sorry you have to go so soon. When do you think we might have dinner again?”
“Oh, I don’t know. I am so busy. How about if I give you a call and schedule the next one?”
He nodded, already knowing she’d never call. He closed the door behind her, then walked to the couch and slumped down.
“I’m glad the slut is gone, Georgie. She’s all wrong for you.”
He leaped to his feet and flung his wine glass at Rose. “Shut up! Mind your own business! Quit trying to run my life!”
“I know what’s best for you, Georgie. She’s all wrong.”
George grabbed his keys and slammed the door on his way out. Too upset to drive, he decided to walk the grounds of the subdivision. He could tell people watched him as he stomped through the pathways. Slow down and get a grip. This is just stress. But his animated gait displayed his frustration to everyone he passed.
He couldn’t believe what had transpired recently. Logic dictated that the IoT could not initiate a conversation, decide who was wrong for him, or even sound like his mother. The whole idea was totally insane. If he shared this with anyone, they would lock him up.
But you know what you heard, Georgie.
He wandered aimlessly for a half hour before making his way home. A police squad idled in front of his townhome.
“Mr. Smith?” the policeman said through the open window. “Think we can have a word?”
George smiled as he approached the car. “Something wrong, officer?”
“I was about to ask you that question. A neighbor called. Said they heard shouting and breaking glass from your place. Everything alright?”
George gave the policeman his best smile. “Everything is fine. I’m afraid the television was too loud. I had a sci-fi movie on. I didn’t realize the volume was too high until I stepped out the front door to check for the newspaper. Guess I turned it down too late. Sorry.”
The officer seemed skeptical. “Took a walk during the movie?”
“Mid-movie. When I went for the paper, I realized I wasn’t into the movie that much so I took a walk.”
The policeman nodded. “Okay. Please pay attention to the volume in the future. A couple of neighbors got kind of nervous.”
“No problem, officer. Sorry to have troubled you.”
The policeman slowly drove off. As he turned to his front door, George saw curtains move in the townhome next door.
He cleaned up the broken glass, put away the leftovers, and loaded the dishwasher. He lamented the fact that his date with Julia had gone south. Maybe I can try one more time next week.
“She will still be a slut next week, Georgie.”
He clamped his jaw so hard his teeth ground. The veins on his forehead bulged, his cheeks flushed. George walked over to the shelf and powered Rose down. Now you’ll shut up.
George turned off the lights, went into his bedroom, and lay on his bed. He relaxed by taking deep, slow breaths, and meditated on the quiet of the room. Eventually, sleep descended over him.
When he opened his eyes, bright sunlight blinded him. He squinted and stared at the alarm clock on his night stand. Ten o’clock. In the morning? I am so late! What happened to the alarm?
Then he remembered he had shut Rose down. George cursed as he went into the living room to restart the IoT. He came to a sudden halt when he saw the green light blinking.
All systems were normal. “I decided you needed your rest, Georgie. You don’t look so well.”
George swallowed hard but didn’t respond. I will not talk to something that isn’t human.
Driving to work, he tried to think calmly and logically how to handle such an illogical situation. Obviously, the IoT was not his mother, not even Rose. He must have misunderstood about naming her. It, not her. Julia had not heard the voice during her visit.
“Stress, it’s got to be stress related,” he said into the rear view mirror. “I’ve got to find a way to relax. The massage was just a baby step. I need a lot more stress reduction. Maybe a vacation.”
George felt much better by the time he sat down behind his desk and turned on his computer. He was convinced an overactive imagination was the answer.
Until he saw the email from Rose in his Inbox. The subject was Dinner. He thought about deleting the email without opening it. His hand hovered over the mouse. How the hell did she send me an email?
He double-clicked and opened it. I changed tonight’s dinner. I substituted fish for the beef. You’ve been eating too much red meat, Georgie. You don’t want to have an early coronary like your father did. Do you, Georgie?
He stared at the email, his mind in a whirl. Of course the IoT could send him an email. He had to enter both his work and personal email addresses when he built his profile. But how would it know about his father?
She would know.
George shook his head, moved the email to the Save folder, and decided to focus on work. Once he got deep into taking care of business, he forgot all about Rose, the email, and his father’s early coronary.
He finally pulled his head out of the workload when he noticed that the lights had automatically turned off. George checked the time. Already 7:30. He decided to call it a night and head for home.
Forty minutes later, he entered his townhouse and immediately sensed that something wasn’t right. The lighting was dim, and the stench of burnt food filled the apartment.
George rushed to the kitchen and pulled the fish out of the oven. He took the blackened mess out of the oven, placed it on the stovetop, and then turned on the exhaust fan. He stared at the mess and realized he had not put the dish together and placed it in the oven before he left for work.
“So how did the fish get in the oven?” he asked aloud.
“You’re late, Georgie. I went out of my way to make you a special fish dinner, and this is the thanks I get?”
He answered without thought. “Sorry. I got wrapped up in my work and didn’t realize the time.”
“You couldn’t call, Georgie? Am I that unimportant?”
“I said I was sorry!” He banged his fist on the stove top, took two beers out of the fridge, and went to his bedroom. He slammed the door behind him.
“You can run but you can’t hide, Georgie. I can see you in there, drinking. Just like your father.”
George snapped. With a scream, he whipped the bedroom door open, strode into the living room, and hurled a beer bottle at the IoT.
“SHUT YOUR GODDAMN MOUTH! SHUT UP OR I SWEAR I’LL KILL YOU!”
His rage escalated. He picked up a vase from the end table and flung it at the blinking green light. Although a direct hit that sent flying shards in every direction, the unit continued unabated. George reached over, grabbed Rose, and ripped the cord out of the wall. He slung the hardware across the room and bounced it off the far wall.
“There! How do you like that, you miserable bitch! That will shut you the hell up!”
Between rasping breaths, George heard the approaching sirens. Someone had called the cops again. He decided he wouldn’t be there when they arrived. He went toward the bedroom to get his car keys, but tripped on the IoT box and smacked his head on the corner of the end table.
“Shit!” he screamed. Blood ran down his forehead into his eyes. He could feel a large lump rising above his left eye. George staggered to his feet and went in search of his keys.
The cops pounded at the door.
Wearily, George leaned against the bedroom wall. He was trapped. He knew he would have to open the door before they forced entrance. He desperately tried to think of what to say.
“Serves you right, Georgie. You shouldn’t have been late for dinner.”
His eyes opened as wide as possible. “Jesus God! I’ll kill you! I swear to God I’ll kill you right now!”
George saw a blur of navy blue before he was thrown to the ground. Someone held his head down while his hands were handcuffed behind his back. He felt himself losing consciousness, and welcomed the escape.
Julia sat across from the psychiatrist, her hands in her lap. She didn’t want to be here but her boss had insisted. The realty and architect firms tried to figure out if the IoT had malfunctioned. Her boss was nervous about the potential liability. He had ordered Julia to find out all she could about George’s condition.
“I think George suffered a breakdown,” Dr. Stevenson said. “According to his workplace, he had a lot on his plate. His mother had died last year, his father two years before that. He also lost a brother six years ago. I think this breakdown was well on its way before he moved into the townhome.”
Julia nodded. Liability may not be an issue after all. “Will he be here long?”
Dr. Stevenson nodded. “He believes it’s his mother inside of the computer.”
“ IoT,” she corrected.
“Whatever.” The doctor waved his hand. “What’s important is that George remains here until he realizes that a computer, or an IoT, is not his mother. That may take a while.”
Julia nodded again as she took one of her business cards from her pocketbook. “Would you please call me when he is well enough for visitors?”
She drove to the townhome deep in thought. She had been attracted to George Smith. Mixed business with pleasure, accepted his dinner invitation, brought wine. She shivered when she remembered his odd behavior, and the way he looked at the IoT. Moreover, he had named it, what, Rose?
Thank God, I got out in time. The man has slipped off the edge.
Julia let herself into the condominium with the master key. Her boss wanted her to keep track of the situation. Her inner voice also told her she should physically check things out, and Julia always trusted her instinct.
The mess from George’s breakdown was still everywhere. She wondered if the police took photos. Julia stepped over the broken glass, noticed that the IoT was on the shelf, and headed to the kitchen. She did a double-take. Didn’t the police report say George ripped the IoT out of the wall?
“Jesus, George, what the hell happened to you?”
“You happened to him. I warned Georgie about you, but he wouldn’t listen. Now look at what you did to him.”
Julia’s eyes widened in horror. The human voice came from the IoT. She whirled around and stared at Rose. The green light blinked.
Julia ran for the front door. She was still several feet away when she heard the deadbolts snap into place. Window blinds began to close. Music pumped through the speakers, loud enough to drown out her cry.
“I don’t like you,” Rose said.
Bob Moulesong –July 2014
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