I am, in general a fan of technology: for a start, without it, you wouldn’t be reading this, unless I was a monk scrawling rants on cowhide with a quill. Yes, on the whole, technology is a Good Thing. But even I have moments of doubt, and finding yourself in a sleeping car on a train, trying to get an obstreperous electronic gadget to go to sleep at 4:15 am, certainly counts as one such.
This all started on holiday in Scotland: Chris wanted to buy a Furby for her daughter, and opted to get one up there, to see whether it perhaps had a Scottish accent and a fondness for haggis. Our first purchase has to be returned to the shop, since when the batteries were inserted, it did nothing at all — if I knew then what I do now, I’d have kept it. The second was more successful, and I found myself trying to close the battery panel of a wriggling, squawking, Gremliny kind of thing. Indeed, “Gremliny” is putting it mildly: Joe Dante should sue, though we never found out what happens if you get a Furby wet. However, if I ever see one of the little bastards again, this mistake will be rectified, just as soon as I find a bag, some half-bricks, and a deep body of water.
Those who claim there are no difference between the sexes have clearly never produced a Furby in mixed company. Women immediately go “Awwwww”, get all gooey, and start lactating. Men look on aghast: those who have kids have all the horrors brought back to them, while those who don’t, rapidly vow to have vasectomies. For Furbys make us obsolescent: they find burping and farting funny, have a vocabulary largely consisting of grunts, and demand regular feeding — yet never leave the toilet-seat up or make dubious sexual demands. With current advances in genetic engineering, it won’t be long before real, live Furbys replace men entirely: I have seen the future, and it has Bambi Eyes.
The little monsters are activated by a series of sensors, to which it responds like a Tamagotchi: feed it, and it purrs “Yum”, tickle its tummy and it gurgles, ignore it and it gets bored before drifting off to sleep. It starts off speaking “Furbish”, and eventually learns English, with a vocabulary of 200-300 words, allowing it to hold debates with tabloid readers and minor members of the Royal Family. I can only assume that a jolt on the train led to one of these sensors being pushed somehow, and thus to me being woken at the crack of dawn by a muffled, repetitive, whiny electronic cry of “I’m hungry! I’m worried!”.
I was on the top bunk in the sleeper, and the irritating bleating was from a rucksack on the shelf at my feet. Kicking it didn’t help — even if it did make me feel a good bit better. Nor did shuffling it around, and I really didn’t fancy taking everything out of the bag. The solution was obvious, drop it to the shelf below, where one of two things would happen: either the jolt would stop the sensor being activated, or the continued noise would wake Chris up and *she’d* have to deal with it. Any pangs of guilt were rapidly annulled; after all, it was her little brute. And lo, the second option did come to pass, and two grown adults did struggle vainly to soothe a fur-covered sack of silicon chips. In the end, we decided that feeding it was the best option, and peace was restored. Couldn’t help wondering what the people in the next berth thought, overhearing a baby’s cries for food, interspersed with comments in a male voice like “If you won’t shut the little fucker up, I will” and “Shall I get a hammer?” We almost expected to be met in London by Child Welfare officers.
But perhaps the most disturbing feature only became clear when the Furby went home to Phoenix and met the one already in residence. When you turn them on, facing each other, they converse, sometimes in Furbish, sometimes in English. They talk, ask questions, respond, sing and dance for each other and when one gets tired and goes to sleep, so does its mate. It’s apparently really weird to watch, and I can see why her mother – the only woman apparently immune to their saccharine cuteness, bless her – thinks they are possessed by Satan. I have visions of creeping downstairs in the middle of the night, and finding them conspiring to torture, rape and murder your entire family. Is anyone up for ‘Bride of Furby’? And, perhaps more importantly, what’s Furbish for “I’ll cut the phone lines, you find the chainsaw”…?