And the fork ran away with the spoon

I have to learn to relax- as evidenced by a recent nightmare.

I was in a modernistic version of my kitchen. All the appliances were chatting over the Internet. I was telling the coffeepot to brew seven cups of strong java when I overheard the refrigerator whisper to the sink.

"Pssssst," said the icebox. "You got any connections with the toilet?"

"Ssssssssssurrreee," swished the faucet. "We're cousssssinsssss. How can I help?"

"Let's have a little fun," the icebox clacked. "Can you get the toilet to overflow?"

"Pieccccccceee of cake," whispered the faucet.

Even in my dream I thought this was a little silly. It certainly wasn't as serious as the daytrading microwave. But I was wrong to underestimate the power of appliances, because I soon heard gurgling sounds. In moments there was more water on the bathroom floor than had reached my parched lawn all of last July.

I awoke from the dream soaked. Fortunately, it was sweat, not aqua de toilet, that made my jammies clammy. My digital clock was quietly keeping time. The television, VCR and radio were all behaving themselves. In the kitchen everything was running as smoothly as ever, although the icemaker seemed to be making an inordinate amount of noise.

It had only been a nightmare, I sighed.

While preparing breakfast, I glanced at the refrigerator where household messages are posted. There was the requisite note: "Jim, went to buy grapes. I'll peel them for you when I get home. Your adoring wife."

Everything back to normal.

But, as I settled down to a self-made cup of coffee, I realized that nightmare may have had a foundation in reality. It did sound a lot like what I'd heard from an old working acquaintance I'd recently met.

William Markey, who while with 3Com used to chat me up about cable modems, has gone on to a new venture with UCentric Systems. Now he preaches the gospel of nondenominational whole-home-connectivity.

To William's way of thinking, it doesn't matter what conduit brings data to the house -- electricity, cable, telephone -- it can all be interconnected with in-house wiring or wireless transport using Internet Protocol.

"We perceive the Internet as the next utility in the house," he explained.

The plan is to serve the great unwashed masses by flooding them with easily accessed information.

"The market niche we're going after doesn't change their car oil. They repair their VCR by throwing it out and going to the store and getting another one," he said bluntly.

I probably fit that category. In my own defense, I used to change my oil before my Volkswagen became more complicated than an Atlas rocket. And, I have set the clocks on my VCRs -- I just can't get them apart to remove wedged tapes.

This probably makes me a candidate for William's product, which, he said, would sit near where the wires enter the home and send signals to devices throughout the entire home.

"Anything above the floorboards, from our perspective, is a device," he clarified.

Most especially included in that, he said with a straight face, is the refrigerator. Not only does he foresee the icebox talking back to its maker in a sort of electronic prayer session and checking the freshness to the two-week-old orange juice someone keeps forgetting to drink, but it would also have a screen on its front.

"It's the highest-visibility flat surface in the house," he told me seriously.

Refrigerator manufacturers, he claimed, are lining up for this kind of connectivity. The icebox screen could be their gateway to advertising new products or just plain communicating with their customers. For consumers, it could be an Internet gateway to view while chowing down.

"Think about how often you look at the refrigerator," Markey suggested. "You could be getting sports scores or messages or your e-mail. The refrigerator guys love the idea."

Of course, even a futurist like William Markey knows this idea, while family attractive, is still off a ways. For now, he said, his company is pushing instant messaging on the TV.

There's a potentially intrusive irritant that, on first blush, doesn't seem like such a bad idea.

I know I would have intruded on the lives of my friends and acquaintances with a "Did you see that?" message when Janice Soprano popped that sleaze bucket Richie Aprile.

Which, I guess, confirms what William is trying to say.

"The Internet," he said, "has a heck of a lot more to do with connectivity than just PCs."

And I'm pretty sure I didn't dream this up.

You don't need a refrigerator screen to tell me what you think, lust use that old standby computer and type in jimbarthold@aol.com.

COPYRIGHT Copyright by Media Central Inc., A PRIMEDIA Company. All rights reserved.
COPYRIGHT Gale Group

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