“I’ve seen the future and it works.” — Lincoln Steffens

Thinking of old friends today who have embraced the future, Jim comes to mind.

I won’t use his real name, because he’s gone very private in the last few years and would probably sue me.

Jim, a retired actor and a few years younger than I, married the widow of a once famous singer of the black-and-white movie days who has a lot of old money. I knew he’d make it.

I’m told they live in the California desert, Palm something. They have rock and sand and cacti for landscape; he says it brings him peace. What really brings him peace is that old money and his new house.

Jim has gone and built one of those futuristic houses, where everything is computerized. He claims he can turn his lights, his Netflix and his garbage disposal off and on from Paris, or water his cacti from the Bahamas.

Imagine.

He tells his friends and neighbors that he can even flush his toilets from anywhere, like from Oregon, where he goes fishing. Why would he want to do that if there is nothing in the toilet to flush?

He claims it’s a trick to discourage burglars who may be prowling through his house in the dark while he’s gone.

Can you imagine the faces on the burglars, he says, when they hear a toilet upstairs flush in a bathroom they thought was empty?

Jim’s toaster is programmed, as are the air conditioners and window shades. His whole life is run by his thumb, or whatever finger he uses for those buttons.

Jim says he can open his garage door or windows, turn his solar panels off and on from New Orleans, or just down the street in Palm somewhere if he chooses.

I think this is hilarious. This is a guy who had rabbit ears atop his apartment in Hollywood.

I got all of this secondhand from an old friend who found me here in Waterville, where I can open my windows only by personally lifting them, and I can’t even get my Netflix connected properly or my new alarm clock to ring a.m. instead of p.m.

A Google search tells me that there are thousands of such homes being built each day all over the country – all over the world, actually. These are homes that Frank Lloyd Wright, Frank Gehry and Le Corbusier never dreamed of.

I think this house must be a lot of fun to own. I bet Jim even has one of those driverless cars. Nothing can stop him now that he’s rich.

Do I want this house or that car? I don’t think so, because I’m a lot more paranoid than Jim. I know what can go wrong with that house, and it’s going to go wrong very soon, as soon as the hackers find him.

That’s right. The hackers are here. They’re out there hacking into anything that’s run on a computer, including Jim’s toilet and toaster.

We, all of us, have been thrust into what Aldous Huxley called the Brave New World, except we’re not as brave about it as we thought we would be. We thought we could handle all of this gimmickry, have fun with it like Jim, but we didn’t count on the hackers.

These aren’t the big hackers, the ones in the Chinese army trying to eavesdrop on Hillary’s multiple phones and stealing your tax stuff from the IRS.

This is about the new underground army of “mini-hackers,” millennials and teenagers as young as 12, who have tapped into an exciting change of fun time from just playing with their Xboxes.

Now, given the chance, they can tap into Jim’s house, turn his air conditioner off, flush his toilet in the middle of the night and scare the hell out of him. They can burn his toast and turn his lights off and on and worse.

Consider the guy in St. Louis whose Jeep Cherokee was taken over in mid-drive on a crowded freeway. The air conditioner went full up, the music blared, and the windshield wipers kicked on. Annoying? Yes, until they turned off the car’s engine as he doing 75. Are you listening, Jim?

OK, I’m spooked. Can they do that to my Prius, or mess up my television programming?

Wait, can they make my Netflix work? I’d pay for that.

J.P. Devine is a Waterville writer.

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