It's monday. I've had more coffee than is sensible and I'm trying to out-stare multiple deadlines. Wife and firstborn are frolicking in town, so I've been left to my own devices. And the devices have started to develop personalities.
I'm outnumbered. Although they like to make me think I'm the one in charge, it's the devices that have complete control of the apartment. There are more Apple things here than there are rooms. All different shapes and sizes, and in various states of sprightliness/torpor – the box-fresh iPad Mini is like some kind of hyperactive space-ninja compared to the sluggish oaf that is my five year-old iMac. Eager-to-please iPhones seem to follow me around the place, appearing on unlikely surfaces (I left you on top of the nappy bin? Really? What do you want from me?) and scaring the bejesus out of me with abrupt chirps and whistles.
Back in the 20th century, as the heart of the home moved from the kitchen to the sofa, we were promised a future of robot maids and transforming furniture. What we got was screens. Lots of screens. Whether designed for your desktop, your pocket or your lap, there is no place modern computers are more at home than in our homes. Broken free of their work-or-play shackles, they've become appliances. Multi-purpose, genuinely useful, and constantly in use – which is why they're all covered in various flavours of grubby fingerprint.
It all happened without me noticing, a silent invasion. Natural selection slowly plucked previously essential boxes and gizmos from our lives and replaced them with Ive shininess.
First to go was the stereo, ushered into obsolescence by the arrival of iTunes. Whole swathes of shelf suddenly became available as my beloved CD collection – a trophy cabinet of an adolescence spent loitering in Our Price – was ripped and boxed and shoved into the attic. Now the music blarps out of the nearest device, wherever I want it to be (unaccompanied by the fascinated poring-over of liner notes – a casualty of digitalisation).
And then went the TV. Why squint at a tiny set across the other side of the bedroom when I can snuggle in and gently warm/roast your legs with a cosy MacBook and a Netflix account? Even whilst watching, it's handy to have a second device in case I need to – and I will need to – check something on IMDb. How else am I going to be sure that that's thingy from that film with that guy in it who looks like that other guy?
Before long, the purge was out of control. The black glassy rectangles were absorbing everything. All the little bits and pieces of my life that I took for granted, one day we woke up and realised they werent there any more. Clocks: gone. Radios: gone. Clock-radios: gone.
So here I am, surrounded by black mirrors (thank you Charlie for that one), all offering to help me with my daily grind.
And while they're at it, they're all talking to each other – photos and messages and films being flung about. Or rather, they're arguing with each other – with multiple iCloud and Dropbox accounts on multiple devices, and it all gets a bit murky. The place may be a lot less cluttered, but my shoebox full of photos never used to require this much constant administration. Quite when, where and how it's okay to delete content is all sorts of confusing. It's not so much living in the cloud as getting lost in the fog.
(Throw into the mix the ugly cousin of the family, the Xbox, gurning in the corner of the room like an eager-to-please halfwit. It so desperately wants to be the control centre of the home, but not before it isists you look at some advertising and play with its made-up currency. Moron.)
All of these things, luring me in with micro-activities to fill the gaps in between thoughts. I'll just sort out that photo album there, I'll just tinker with that playlist, I'll just make sure twitter knows I'm still alive, I'll just, I'll just.
Attention deficit aside, this new order of things is genuinely useful, even more so now that young Master Benneworth-Gray is here. Every single giggle and gurgle calls for a Google. Firsts – there are so many firsts – have to be recorded and shared and Skyped. My creaky old iMac used to primarily be a work machine, an Adobe-tronic. Now, it's basically a grandparent-appeasing device and nursery rhyme jukebox.
One of the handy little apps we have for him is simple to the extreme, but does the job of what would've been yet another dust-gathering appliance. It does one thing: it makes white noise. Just a constant shush to help him get to sleep. This:
That's it. That's all it does, that's all it needs to do. And it works a charm.
Except now, with the latest update, it apparently has “social features”. Social white noise. Good grief. Is this the road we're going down? Can I not perform the simplest of tasks without being expected to tweet about it? Or is it more automated than that? While I get on with my work (I really must get on with my work), will my bijou house of tomorrow be socialising behind my back? Am I even a necessary part of the equation now? Maybe I'll wake up one day to a note telling me that the devices have moved on and got a place of their own. I can picture a nice little place by the sea where they can all just sit there in deck-chairs and bleep at each other and take Instagrams of the sunset and share them back and forth until the end of time.
Okay. Good riddance. I'll be fine. I coped before them, and I'll cope without them. Somehow. The most important appliance isn't part of their gang, and it's staying right here. Coffee machine, I love you. Let's never fight.
Originally published in the August 2013 issue of MacUser.