A year ago, I replaced the old-style doorbell with a video device that pipes an image of the visitor right to my phone, showing me who's at the door. In the old days people used something called "a window," but now I can glance at the phone — which is already in my hand, turned on, of course — and see who's there that I'm trying to trick into thinking I'm not home.
It's motion-activated, so if someone enters the porch, I get an alert at work: "Shifty dude testing your locks, and there's jack-all you can do about it, friend."
The system also allows me to pick among several alert chimes. For Halloween, I changed the customary "ding-dong" to something spooky, just for fun. (Note: No actual "fun" ensued.) I chose "Moaning ghosts" and waited for the system to load the groans. Soon enough, some kids came along, and the chime issued the sound of the tortured dead caught in a netherworld twixt our world of life and the vacancy of the tomb — but the doorbell app on my phone played a cheerful default sound.
Such is the frustration of our modern world: Drat, I didn't coordinate my holiday-specific doorbell noises. OK, well, open the app, select device, click on options, scroll to alerts. ...
"Are you going to answer the door?" my wife asked.
"I have something more important to do," I explained. "I need to synchronize my notification sounds across all my devices."
She did not get this at all, but she's the kind of person who — how do I put this nicely? — can go 10, even 12 feet away from her phone without even noticing how far afield she has strayed. I've seen her power it down for the night, which is horrifying, like chloroforming the dog before you go to sleep.
Once I got the rings in sync, I sat back to await the arrivals. Did I mention that I have the doorbell app on my watch, as well? It gives me a tap on the wrist when there's someone at the door. Between the chime on the wall, the noise from my phone and the tap on my wrist, I'd have a pretty good idea why the dog was at the door, barking his head off.
After a few groups of confection extortionists had come and gone, I noticed that the wall chime was not sounding. I tested the button outside on the doorbell; my phone moaned like damned ghosts, but nothing sounded inside.
"Can you get that?" I said to my wife when my phone nudged me. "I have to reboot the chime, and I may need to reset the Wi-Fi network."
"I didn't hear anything."
"My watch says there's someone outside. Can you get it while I troubleshoot this?"
Again, she seemed miffed, as if she were doing all the work. To me, it seemed a fair division of labor: She handled the trick-or-treaters for 20 minutes while I googled tech solutions. Besides, I was getting frustrated. This made no sense! I could call up the video feed from the doorbell, so it wasn't a network issue.
Then there was a rap on the door from the old door knocker.
"That might be the wind," I said. "I didn't get a notification on my forearm computer."
"What was the matter with the old doorbell again?" she said as she went to the door.
I tried to let that pass. There have always been those people who scoffed at cars when horses were perfectly good for getting into town on Saturday to buy flour and horehound drops. But I couldn't help myself.
"Even when it's not working this system has the potential to do more than the old system when it wasn't working. And cars solved the manure problem." She didn't have an answer for that.
Because the only thing that worked was the video feed, I sat in an easy chair staring at a picture of the front porch, waiting for kids to show up. I could have used my cranial-embedded bidirectional audio-location system, also known as ears, but it was more modern to look at the phone and see their spectral black-and-white forms filling the porch.
When all was done, I confessed to my wife: "Yes, the one night we most needed a doorbell, it didn't work. But I can fix it. And if we get that fridge I want, it'll have a video display on the front that will tie into the doorbell, and we'll be able to see trick-or-treaters without using the phone."
"And will that work all the time like a simple doorbell?"
"Probably not. But who wants something boring that works when you can have something incredibly cool that doesn't?"
Anyway, the doorbell worked the next day, but not exactly the way I had intended. I'd installed the doorbell app on her phone and set it to the custom ghost moan, and it went off in a meeting when our mail was delivered.
Her fault, really. She should have turned her phone off during the meeting. But some people are just addicted to those things.