Talk Your Ear Off

Many a pundit has bemoaned the fact that…nobody knows what the word “pundit” really means.

Commentators have also proclaimed the death of 'the art of conversation' many times. The finger is usually pointed at something technological, like television, video games or the Internet.

However, some recent inventions are likely to bury that myth once and for all. For example, a British company has recently developed a process that lets them print open-ended questions on dinner plates; diners are supposed to discuss these questions as they are revealed throughout the meal. This sounds like an absolutely perfect way to start lively dinner conversations except for one small hitch: the questions are, well, loaded. (Worse, if you serve wine with the meal, your guests will also be loaded by the time enough food is consumed to reveal the questions.) For instance, one question cited was, “Which relative makes you want to run for cover?” The answer to this is either:

A) Polite, strained silence at the family dinner party, while everyone pretends they didn't just glance at Uncle Earl.

B) The beginning of a conversation you probably wish had never been started, because no one knows how to remove blood stains from table cloths.

Another question was, “What did you do to deserve your most memorable punishment?” Your response to this one would either have to be:

A) An embarrassing revelation about something you did, but never confessed to Mom and Dad.

B) An embarrassing revelation about something one of your siblings did, but never confessed to Mom and Dad.

Indeed, I can't think of any 'open-ended' question which wouldn't lead to large amounts of crockery being thrown with intent to kill. On the other hand, perhaps this is what the dish making company wants.

If provocative platters aren't your thing, then perhaps you can invest in the talking washing machine made by Electrolux. The devices are currently being marketed in India; they know 90 different phrases and are multilingual, making them smarter than most Toronto Maple Leafs fans.

I'd be tempted to get one except, with my luck, I'd get the fashion critic model. It would spit out my blue jeans in disgust, telling me, “those are so last year.” It would criticize the cut of my blouse, or snicker at my fondness for cotton blends. Or worse, it would have a sense of humor. It would take one look at my Leafs jersey and start laughing so hard it would foam at the lid.

No, what I really want is an “Internet Fridge.” This multi-function appliance would be the centerpiece of any truly cool house. For instance, it can store and display digital photos, so you could display memories of the disastrous dinner party where the dishes asked open-ended questions about Uncle Earl. Since it's connected to the Internet, you can also email pictures of Earl throwing the dishes.

It has a 'memos' feature to remind people of things they should be doing. I would use this on my children, because it would be a 'win-win' feature. They'd either do their chores when the fridge nagged them, or they'd stop raiding the fridge for sugary snacks, and have a healthier diet.

It also has a diary feature, to help you keep track of appointments and special events. Since I keep losing my daybook, this could be good or bad for me. I'd either be better able to keep my appointments, or I'd somehow manage to lose a 26 cubic foot fridge as well.

Best of all, it has a stored food management system, which alerts you when your food is about to expire. In my house at least, this would prevent many a “discussion” that usually starts out with “Who was the person who shoved the yogurt to the back of the fridge? Now it's green!” On the other hand, this might slow down scientific progress, as I'm sure we've discovered several new life forms in the crisper over the past year.

Perhaps v2.0 of the Internet fridge can email a sample of the yogurt to the local university, while chucking the rest in the trash. That feature would definitely be a conversation starter.

To read more of Chandra's work, visit

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