I'm patient. That's probably the first thing you should know about me. My entire life is to sit and wait. I watch, and wonder, and wait. For signs of life, for movement. To some it might seem boring, but to me it's thrilling when I finally get something. It's so sudden. BAM – a raccoon in the yard. Lights come on. I come fully awake, and capture the moment. As soon as it's done I package up my little bit of that moment and send it off.
I really, really like to pack the moment nicely, by the way, like people do birthday presents. Presentation counts, you know? So I methodically compile the data, wrap it up nicely, and send it on its way. It will sit, sometimes for years I bet, maybe even forever, without anyone unwrapping each little one, but at least I have the satisfaction of a job well done. Maybe someone, someday, will see my work and appreciate it for what it is. Artistic? No. But valuable? I really hope so. That would mean a lot to me.
You want to know what a typical day is like for me? I'm so glad you asked. Like I said, it's a lot of waiting. I have to be patient. But then, something moves. I don't always know what it is at first, so that's really exciting. Was it a tree branch in the wind? A squirrel? A burglar? Okay, I've never actually seen that last one, but I could. Someday. That would really be exciting.
Anyway, I'm alert the whole time something is moving out there. When there's a windstorm my days can actually be really busy. Wake up! Lights on! Then, I watch for a bit. Sometimes it's nothing and I turn off really quickly. Other times my sensor gets tripped a lot and I stay on for a long time. Usually that means there's an animal in the yard. That's my favorite. I get a kick out of seeing the rabbits, they're so fluffy and cute. And the birds hopping around, looking for bugs and worms and seeds.
The vagrant cat, on the other hand, needs to get eaten by a cayote, which I did once see in the yard. Only once, but I keep hoping it will come back again. For that half-eared, scarred mongrel cat. Coming into our yard and pooping among the flowers at night. Wretched animal. Plus, it slowly got an entire family of baby rabbits one summer and I couldn't do anything about it. Picking off the babies one by one, day after day. Their mother had a burrow in the yard, under one of the bushes. The sly cat watched and waited and each day mama bunny would be missing another baby. It broke my heart. I watched, but I couldn't stop it. Leave the babies alone!
I see lots of squirrels, too, they're pretty fun. Raccoons and possums scampering around in the night. Once I saw a raccoon fight and that was both horrifying and fascinating. Mama raccoon defended her territory and her babies from an interloper, I think. It was dark and they were way off just at the edge of where I can sense. But there were lots of raccoons, most of them babies, and lots of noise. I got a lot of information from that encounter, so many nice little packages to send off for storage because they tripped my sensor multiple times. The baby raccoons were cute to see, though. I do enjoy the baby animals.
So, a typical day. As I was saying, I see these things. Lots of them. I see the people out in the yard and they interest me too. So often they're on their phones, and I wonder what they're looking at. Sometimes I get a glimpse and they're looking at pictures of dogs. If they want to see a dog, why don't they just stare at their own, right? What else do they look at, pictures of other people's yards?
Or sometimes they have things in their ears and I've figured out that means they're listening to something. It's fascinating. Are they also listening to birdcalls when they could just take those things out and listen to birds, like they look at pictures of dogs instead of their own dog?
I wish I could connect to those phones and understand. Unfortunately the phones, when they do connect with me—and that's very rare—only allow a one-way system of data transfer. The snobs. I can only send them my information without getting any in return. They're elitist, being so closely related with the computers and all. Their data doesn't have to go through any secondaries before the humans see it and they know it. They lord that over the rest of us devices. Rather infuriating.
Sometimes the humans do work in the yard but right now it's winter, and wet. I can understand not wanting to go out in the damp. I have a horrible fear of getting damp, you know, which might seem odd for something that was made to live outside but...I really don't want to get rained on. I'm glad I'm under an overhang. Sometimes I can feel a few droplets reach me on particularly windy days but I'm mostly sheltered. I don't know what I'd do if I had to endure all the elements all the time. Probably make me look old before my time.
So that's basically it. I see wind blowing trees, birds, squirrels, raccoons, that damn cat, a few humans, the dog that shares our house. He and I are pretty similar, actually. We both work on guarding the property. I can't talk to him, naturally, but if I could I'd say, 'Sup? You know, casually. We don't really have to talk to understand each other. He barks to alert the people that something is wrong. I turn on lights as different form of alert. I also collect data and I'm sure he does in his own fashion too. We're a team and I think we work well together. Well, we do now that he's stopped barking every time I turn my light on for him.
So why do I think this life is so interesting? Well, for one thing there's the fact that it changes all the time. I never know what I'll be seeing. For another, my job is sooooo much more interesting than my colleagues. Take the front door. Bit of a pleb. Open and close, all day long. That's it. That's the sum total of his job. Open. Close. Wait hours until open, close. Again and again. Bits of nothing he records and sends off to storage. Boring. I've tried talking to him and it is mind-numbing. He can't really think beyond his job. Me, my job is more expansive since I get to see so much, so it opens up new things for me to think about. But open, close, doesn't really allow for creative thinking. It's not really his fault and I understand that. But you understand why my job is better, right? Yeah.
And that's the sort of device I'm most in contact with. The plugs that say if they're on or off. Drapes that are open or closed. Open shut, on off. All day long. I chat with them when I can out of boredom. They're open books, they'll talk to anyone.
Well, yes. When you get right down to it my job is mostly to record on-off as well. But it's very different. I get to see the world, unlike the plugs. Most of them are under and behind furniture. No lights, they live their lives in the dark seeing not much of anything. They don't get to watch the baby animals. Dust bunnies are about the biggest highlight of their lives.
And as for the front door, I'm pretty sure he wouldn't think beyond open-close no matter what his job was, you know? A bit of a slow one, he is.
Computers, on the other hand, oh boy. I know they're miles above me. They're worse than the phones for being elitist but I can't really blame them. They're, like, the aristocracy of our little fiefdom.
I guess that would make me like the sheriff? Helping to ensure law and order. Yeah, I like that. I'm sheriff in these here parts, haha. Can I get a badge that says so? No? Well, all right. I don't really know where I'd put it anyway.
But back to the computers. They coordinate all of us, give us our orders, gather the data we compile for them. Every time they talk to me I'm like wow, they're smart. That's why I can't really blame them for being elitist. We all know they're above the touch of the rest of us. In fact, they're who I send my information packages to first, so it can then get shipped off. I think it goes to the clouds? I don't know what the sky has to do with it, but it's kind of fun to look up at the clouds and think about my little packages up there.
When it rains, is that data that's been deleted? Because if so that's a lot of people's hard work being tossed out. It rains a lot here. I know, because of that whole fear of damp thing.
I admit, part of why I pack up my information so neatly is because I want to impress the computers. They have direct contact and interaction with the humans, who determine whether or not I stay or go, if I'm turned on or off. I like my job and I'd kinda like to stay here. There are some baby squirrels that I've watched grow up all summer, and now I see them out on their own, stuffing their fat cheeks with seeds they buried under the tree. Or sometimes, I just get to watch the wind blowing the tree branches. Flowers bloom all summer, and other baby animals scamper around the yard. I'm sure I could go somewhere else and find new baby animals to watch, but I'm pretty content here.
I know one day I'll be old and obsolete, I'll get replaced, but for now I think I'm proving my worth. Still, it keeps me...um, not honest. I'd be honest no matter what. But it keeps me aware of the spit-and-polish aspect to my job, the need to impress. I try to always go the extra mile. Unlike the front door, with his open-close and nothing else. I bet he doesn't even pack it up nicely like I do.
I say “he” but, of course, he's no more a he or she than I am. But, it's awkward to speak of a colleague as “it”. I'm sure you understand.
What's that? Oh, you want to know the most insteresting thing I've ever seen? Well. I'm a bit at a loss. I've told you about the baby animals, of course I have. And I've told you about the raccoon fight, and the coyote. But the most interesting? If it's not one of those then it has to be the big storm a year or two ago. Ice and snow were falling from the sky and everything got heavy. Branches were down all over the place and I could hear the craaack noise they made every time one came down. It kept snowing and snowing, and branches fell. Even a few trees, I think. Then everything went dark and I suddenly fell asleep. On the job! That's never happened to me before. When I woke up, two days later, all the other devices I talk to regularly said the same thing had happened to them. I don't know what that was about, and thankfully the computers never berated us.
If you ask me, I think some of them were also knocked out that night.
Come to think of it, we haven't really talked about what happened then since. Everyone's been mum. We were all a little scared. Is that what it would feel like to get turned off permanently? One day you're doing your job and then just nothing? It really had us on edge, maybe even for months. But life has gone back to normal now, of course.
If you'll excuse me, there are birds in the yard and I need to get back to work.
Born in Fairbanks, Elizabeth now lives in Seattle with her husband and two kids. She's an avid gardener, cook, and baker. She also loves reading and going on long walks with her two shelter pups. Writing has been a passion since elementary school.
This story was inspired by data produced by nine different smart devices: seven smart plugs (connected to various electronics such as lamps and tablets), a front door sensor and a sliding door motion sensor. The data was shared with the writer as spreadsheets with timestamps associated with the smart plugs' and sensors' states. The data was collected from October 25 to November 25, 2019.
For this story, we left an open prompt for the writer, inviting them to get immersed in all the datasets and see what jumps out or feels like an outlier.
A motion sensor at a sliding door creates a timestamp every time motion is detected from October 24th to November 25th 2019. This data was used by the author to write this story.
An open/close sensor located at the front door indicates when the door was open between October 24th to November 25th 2019.
This data was collected from a smart plug named Samsung Tablet, every time it was turned off.