When your kids grow up, you no longer care about the Christmas must-have toy.
You recall old headlines — "Furby shortage leads to riots, 97 hospitalized" or "Cabbage Patch Kid-related stabbing incidences down this week" — and feel a gust of relief.
Daughter wasn't much for the hot toy, anyway. There was the inevitable Harry Potter phase, but there were 1,353,552 pieces of Harry Potter merchandise on Amazon — Harry Potter Wizard of Pyorrhea Dental Floss Dispenser! Harry Potter and the Cursed Heel Shoehorn! — so you couldn't fail. As long as you didn't give her a statuette of some hirsute gnome throwing clay on a wheel — "Honey, I thought you said a hairy potter, I'm so sorry" — you were good.
You have to get them something, though. I saw an ad for a product called the Furbo, and it seemed to hit a sweet spot for both daughter and dog. She's away at college, and misses her pooch, who is idealized into a sweet companion who does not issue flatulence capable of stripping varnish. Here was something that could bring them together in the days apart: the automatic, internet-enabled, app-driven, wirelessly connected dog treat dispenser.
That's right: Fire up the app on your phone, connect to the Furbo from the other side of the country, and you can shoot a treat from the machine to the dog. It's for people who feel horrible guilt at leaving their dog alone all day and want to brighten their hours with hard nodules randomly dispensed. But there's more: It also has a camera, so you can see what your dog is doing all day.
I have a pretty good idea of what the dog is doing all day. I mean, I never come home to find the dishwasher emptied and the laundry done. There's not much a dog can do.
Nonetheless, "Furbo detects and records video clips of important dog-related events. Learn what triggers your dog to bark."
Learn? I know what makes him bark. There's a daily crisis when the school bus disgorges its passengers on the street corner. The appearance of the mail person produces calamity equaled only by the UPS truck drivers. But he figured out long ago that they go away if he barks enough.
"Correlation," I keep telling him, "is not causality," but the lesson never seems to sink in.
If I want, I can get a text alert that my dog is barking. I would prefer to get a text alert that informs me when he isn't. Ding! "Birch has ceased to devote his entire brain to yelling at a cat."
The app will also edit your dog's experiences. "Furbo captures adorable moments in your dog's day and creates a highlight video, saving you time from sorting through hours of video recordings."
Alas, the highlight of Birch's day today was bringing up a bolus of grub that didn't sit well. The thought of getting a text alert that he's harking up beige gorp on the good rug is one thing; the certain knowledge that the app will give me the option to share the video on Facebook is quite another.
There's also two-way audio, which you, the loving caretaker, can use to freak the heck out of your dog. Call him by name. Make him search in vain for you, wondering why the familiar voice is not accompanied by a telltale aroma of socks, cigars, sweat and toothpaste! Ruin his day with hopes of your arrival, but salve the pain with a mechanically hurled treat!
Imagine if you heard a dead loved one call your name from the next room, and when you entered, a Salted Nut Roll flew out of nowhere into your hand.
On the other hand, I imagined Daughter in Boston, missing her dog, using her phone to call his name and pop a treat out of the machine. Plus, it could save the dog's life. One of the testimonials on the company's website:
"Furbo's Dog Activity Alert notified me my dog was chewing on a razoe (sic) with 3 blads (sic) on it."
Well, I keep my razoes in the bethroum, so that's not a problem, but you have to wonder if the alert was set to detect three-blads razoes, and you wouldn't get a text if the dog's gnawing on a straightedge.
In the end, I imagined Daughter saying, "Oh, no, this is what we've come to as a society? Using robots and apps to interact with our dogs? We're lost in a technological dystopia! Also, what's the password for the app?"
I bought one, anyway. This means three things: forgotten passwords to log into the remote dog treat-flinger; surprise at the recurring charge for cloud storage of hours of video of Birch trying to lick his manhood back into existence, and finding the thing on the floor, twitching, broken, spitting out one treat after the other, with Birch standing over it triumphant, mouth full of treats.
Hey, you're home! Great! Look! I hacked the demon!
"I know. I got a text."