A refrigerator has two functions -- to keep things cold and to give you a place to stick every photo, note, scrap of paper, toddler scrawl, and very important reminder you never want to see again. First they added ice cube makers and water dispensers, which are pretty appropriate add-ons. But this being the 21st century, Whirlpool decided to go all Refrigerator 2.0 on us. Soon you'll be able to outfit their Central Park connection refrigerator with a digital picture frame, an iPod docking system with speakers, and a Wi-Fi-equipped removable touch-screen tablet computer that will let you watch Like Water for Chocolate when you should be boiling water for dinner, check out the Cooking Channel while you're waiting for your frozen entr & eacute;e to defrost, and surf the Internet for recipes so you can leave one visible on the monitor in the hope that no one realizes the microwave is your best friend. Sure, it would make more sense to have the computer monitor on the wall by the counter where you do most of the cooking -- but hey, is it really that important where you put a useless appendage?
There are two schools of thought when it comes to making our lives easier. The first is the gadget school, which says you need a separate utensil to perform each task, no matter how small, mundane, or easily it can be done using an existing tool. That's why kitchen drawers are jammed with things like lemon peelers, hardboiled egg piercers, nut choppers, potato chip bag openers, and corn on the cob butter holders -- all used for chores that can be done with a simple knife. Then there's the other school of thought -- the Swiss Army school -- that thinks it best to consolidate everything we own into one unit no matter how incongruous it might be. This actually sounds pretty good until you realize that you just don't need a Web cam inside your stove. Yet.
The idea of a robo-combo-kitchen-appliance is nothing new. Back in 1998, NCR Corporation showed a prototype appliance called the Microwave Bank. And no, it wasn't designed to cook the books, much to the chagrin of early adopters like Enron, WorldCom, and Tyco. To call it an appliance would be like calling Sybil "a personality." It was a combination microwave oven, ATM, television, and computer all rolled up in one. Just look in any kitchen and you'll see how successful the idea was. (Heck, they would have done better if they'd have come out with a washer-dryer-ATM combination. At least then you could launder your money.)
Manufacturers, the media, and Bill Gates are all enamored of the combo idea. Me, I just want a refrigerator ice maker where all the cubes don't end up as a solid chunk after two days, an oven that turns off when my dinner starts to burn (uh, how hard would it be to put a smoke detector and cut-off switch in the oven?) and a microwave oven that has a reverse button so I can uncook everything that cooks around the edges during the gentle defrost cycle. Then again, I'm still waiting to drive those George Jetson cars all the magazines of my youth said we'd be tooling around in by now.
Combos aren't confined to kitchen appliances. Cars are becoming entertainment centers, which is a good thing too, since you can never get too distracted simply by using the cell phone, eating a sandwich, reading the newspaper, and putting on make-up while changing a DVD. The truth is, MP3 players belong in everything. I mean, if you can't plug your iPod into your car, refrigerator, exercise machine, and TASER holster, what's the good of even having one?
Yes, I said TASER holster. TASER International (motto: "Our products will shock you") has released a holster for its C2 personal TASER that has a built-in 1-gigabyte MP3 player. Forget the old-news red, pink, and leopard-print holsters -- now you can listen to the "Don't Tase me, bro!" audio clip while incapacitating someone with 50,000 volts. Hey, it doesn't get much better than that. Well, at least until they offer a holster with video.
Whirlpool's new multi-tasking fridge is only the beginning. If this trend continues, we can expect to see other companies climbing on the multi-appliance bandwagon. Look for Chop! Chop!, a combination food processor, chainsaw, and hair clipper. Or the new A-Ford-Able car/ATM/back-massager that makes paying your auto mechanic a less painful experience. And then there's G.E.'s Mr. Coughing, a combination coffee maker, vaporizer, and lawn sprinkler system that takes care of all kinds of drips.
It doesn't get any better than these items. Unless, of course, they all came with an MP3 player.