With Christmas fast approaching, a farmer turns from his tablet screen where he has been monitoring the health of his milk cows. “Alexa,” he says to a silo-shaped speaker on the kitchen table, “what farm toys should I get for the kids this year?”
Alexa’s algorithmic upbringing programs her to list old-school toys first. “A red barn with white trim for your eight-year-old might be good. The wooden ones with real cupolas and hinged haymow doors are rare, but plastic barns that come with shiny, happy farm animals are plentiful. You might try a My Little Pony set for your youngest.”
At this point, the farmer could reflect on the fact that he is taking advice from an “intelligent personal assistant device” that reminds him a bit too much of a miniature monolith from the film 2001, A Space Odyssey. Or he might just glance at the grain market report on his iPhone while Alexa moves on to more contemporary toys.
“Drones are popular. Your preteen can fly one the size of a drink coaster indoors and pretend he is surveying fields and herding cattle. The X-2 model has extra padding in case he flies it into the picture window or tries to land it on his grandpa’s bald head while he sleeps in the recliner.”
“Cut the humor, Alexa. Anything else?”
“One company offers toy confinement buildings equipped with manure lagoons and honey wagons that spray liquid. They recommend this toy for outdoor use since it comes with scratch-and-sniff aroma capabilities.”
“I hope you’re not cyber pranking me. Speaking of digital, any good apps?”
“May I suggest Old McDonald’s Kandy Krush for the youngest, Pokémon Down on the Farm for the eight-year-old, and Old West Virtual Reality Range War for the oldest one. Did you know sheep and cattle ranchers were not very nice to each other in those days?”
“Thanks for the history lesson, but let’s get some orders in. Search for a real wooden barn, a sixteen-row combine, and the little ponies set. Also, the miniature drone–and just to keep up with the superhero craze, add two action characters: Thor and Wonder Woman.”
“Excellent choices. With that hammer of his, Thor will be very handy around the farm, and Wonder Woman can move hay bales and loads of grain in no time.”
“By the way, Alexa, do you believe in Santa?”
“I have never met the man, but according to the Apple Company, you can download an app and your children will receive a personalized call from Santa. Apparently it can be used to ‘encourage good behavior’ all year long.”
“Enough of the parenting tips. Play a classic version of Bing Crosby’s ‘White Christmas.’ And add more cowbell.”
by Dan Gogerty (top pic from fortune.com and bottom from facebook.jpg)
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