Jewish World Review July 13, 2004 / 24 Tamuz, 5764

Leonard Pitts, Jr.

Leonard Pitts, Jr.
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Consumer Reports

In ‘progress,’ not every step moves forward | Do you remember the future?

Chances are you remember it well if you came of age in the '50s or '60s, that era when everything was ''modern,'' ''space age'' or ''new and improved'' and we looked forward with awe. The future was where people would zoom around on jet packs and plan weekend getaways by lunar lakes. The future was where everything would be made better.

Technology would see to it. Better living through chemistry and all that. In the future, a woman would clean her house at the touch of a button. A man would finish his office work in half the time with the help of his robot assistant. All these new conveniences would free us to live more gracious lives. The bulk of our days would be devoted to leisure.

Well, the future came and I don't know about you, but I haven't found any extra leisure. I did, however, find a refrigerator with a television in it.

You may go back and re-read that last sentence for clarity as many times as you wish, but I promise you, it won't change. It says what it says: A few days ago, while walking through an electronics superstore, I passed a refrigerator that required a double take. Because in one of its dual doors, across from the ice maker, there was a working 15-inch television.

I turned to the sales person, pointed at the television. ''Is that a television?'' I asked.

He nodded, smiling.

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I stared at the TV, then whipped back around at him. ''That's the dumbest thing I ever saw in my life,'' I said.

He nodded again, smiling.

I checked the price tag. This fridge — which, by the way, also has Internet capability — retailed for the better part of 3,200 bucks. ''Are you selling a lot of these?'' I asked.

Another nod, another smile.

Make up your mind.

If you remember the future, maybe you can back me up on something: Wasn't it supposed to bring us more than the ability to watch Fear Factor in a fridge door?

Wasn't there supposed to be something in there about enlightenment, betterment, the forward movement of our species?

Or maybe I've just absorbed too much ad copy over the years. The future is always sold to us bright and shiny by big corporations making bigger promises about how new technology will render us complete. There's always a sense of ''Buy this and all your worries will be over.'' You'll be smarter, thinner, wealthier, healthier and have more sex.

Somehow it never works out that way, but we keep lining up anyhow, seduced by the idea that you can buy a better life.

LG Electronics, the Canadian firm which manufactures this glorified ice box, must know this. Its promo material says, ``Think big. Dream big. Visualize surfing the Web, leaving video messages, organizing your shopping list or e-mailing the office from your kitchen. The Internet Fridge from LG is visionary.''

I remind you, we are not talking about a cure for cancer here, but rather a refrigerator with a television in it. I find it hard to believe that's something anybody really needs.

But I'm wrong, of course. Didn't the salesman say he was having no trouble selling them? Somebody will decide the TV fridge is too cool to pass up, even at 32 big ones. Somebody will believe that buying it will give them something they don't have, make them something they've always wanted to be.

Make up your mind.

I don't mean to be going on like this represents the end of civilization as we know it. It's a small thing, I grant you. Still, I take it as a reminder that you can't put grace on a credit card and not every step moves you forward.

The salesman went back to his business. I walked away from the refrigerator, then turned and walked back. I had to have yet another look at this thing. This time I was the one who smiled and shook his head. Maybe it is the wave of the future, but you'll forgive me if I'm not impressed.

It occurs to me that sometimes, you've just got to let the future go on without you.

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