wash n wear and magic

Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.

Arthur C. Clarke
Photo by Ketut Subiyanto on Pexels.com

Taking a couple decades longer than originally predicted, but Arthur Clarke’s future is coming. Aside from phoning from space to converse with family members, the author of the classic science fiction future, 2001: A Space Odyssey never describes mundane tasks in the 21st Century. This lack of forward thinking struck me as I happened upon a question recently posted on NASA-related social media: How many changes of uniform do astronauts aboard the International Space Station bring with them? Do they perform laundry in space? The topic has been on my mind as we have been carting our clothes, bath towels, and work-related wear to the laundromat for the last couple of days.

Earlier in the week, our washer started failing regularly and needed a reboot a couple times per wash cycle. Though a programmable, weight-calculating, water and energy-conserving appliance, our washer does not self-diagnose complex faults – a la fiction’s HAL9000. The repairman I called, neither a robot nor possessing artificial intelligence, thought it might be related to water pressure. After he left, my untrained eye suggested now-leaking spigots funneling hot or cold water to the machine needed replacement. Hard water deposits are likely responsible.

With certain home repair tasks, spouses are comforted by experienced hands and expedited results. It would be magic were I to pop off the faucets, replace with new hardware, and get everything going before laundry piled up. So we had to go to a laundromat for the first time in fifteen or more years. Little did I realize technology advances for the mundane as well as for Mars rovers. I need not have scoured the house for quarters. Simply bring a smartphone. I used GooglePay for the washer (!) fitted with a NFC (Near Field Communication) payment system.

While the same thing is available at most gas pumps now, I am still accustomed to sliding a debit card. But an old dog is open to learning new tricks. I have not used cash often in several years. I am adapting to PayPal, Venmo, and other smartpay systems. This was new tech only a few years ago, but after a year in a pandemic, “touchless” payment and service are everywhere.

Arthur Clarke’s vision of the future is coming to fruition. Digital wallets are perfect for young people rarely carrying cash or wallets. My generation still carries debit and credit cards. Boomers older than me, folks like the gentleman I saw at the bank Thursday, are the few who still prefer to carry cash. However, until the digital future shows me ever-clean clothes and clogless pipes, I hope we will still have somebody to fix appliances and bang on plumbing. Once someone shows me a technological solution for broken technology, I might just stop carrying cash.

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