A few years ago, while I was still studying at university, my grandmother allowed herself the luxury of coming home to live, not without first waving a few “Where better than at home?” or “I am well here alone” in a series of debates that became desperate, until the force of gravity proved to her th that she was not better alone.
My grandmother left the village after 38 years and the situation was full of justified drama: The glazed look through the window of the car served as farewell to see the white houses pass, until falling into a deep sigh camouflaged by the roar of the engine as we caught speed on the road. After an hour of travel in which almost at some point we managed to get a word out of her, we arrived home and the “realented” -as she used to call herself- entered the living room as Michael Clarke Duncan in The Green Mile.
That’s when she came across that round contraption that goes round and round. My grandmother had seen for the first time a robot vacuum cleaner, a Roomba, and her gaze was now filled with confusion and contempt that could well have fused the plate of the artifact, followed by a “What’s that?”. We explained her that it was a device that spun to keep the floor clean, and that it worked on its own.
Evidently, there were not a few kicks that the appliance received from that day on to avoid being approached -and some only for scorn-, although in an ironic revenge there were also not a few naps spoiled for thinking that it could stalk her while she was off guard.
My grandmother had lived in the village, her village, her home and her parents’ home. She had seen the first radio, the telephone and, although she never fully understood it, the television. She had heard about computers, and once she had seen one at the health center – and she was sure that because of her, she had lost the last recipes. Away from her was the Internet or the mobile phone -although my mother gave her one that had found its place in 2005 in a drawer, and it never saw the sun again. But there she was, staring defiantly at that Roomba, which was waiting for her when she returned from her walk taking the first round of the day and chased her in her nightmares down an endless corridor.
The relationship followed the natural course and, sincerely, I expected to find the thing gutted any day at the foot of the basement staircase. But that was not the case. Little by little, the mistrust of his gaze began to become curiosity, she even began to raise his feet so that the boy would at least feed on the crumbs of breakfast; on some occasion, although I am sure she would deny it, she looked at the clock while she waited impatiently for the cleaning round to begin while we were at work.
The lady who would never have refused to sweep the courtyard with a broom that many would think she had stolen from the witch’s train, was now a colleague of a device that was in charge of lighting up, cleaning the room and shutting down again with an indecipherable intelligence: A generation that had gone from seeing the first cathodic screen to trying to understand that they were now tactile, had found reconciliation with the present through my grandmother.
With the cry of “Close the door, or the Roomba will escape”, she received us when we returned from the street, in a click that harbored something real for her, but that always made us laugh when we entered into a technologically leading tradition. Maybe it wasn’t her village or her broom, it wasn’t about customs rooted in deep Spain, but of course, it is undeniable that it was tradition.
Perhaps the inescapable values of the daily life of our ancestors have been lost, perhaps the cities have gobbled them up and extinguished the fire in Frank Lloyd Wright’s home, and the family is no longer gathered around a chimney. Although perhaps not, perhaps instead of being lost they have been transformed, they have accommodated themselves to live from the big houses of long ago to our flats of 30m2 and, these values, have managed that the cities are a little more livable. Would it be so bad if the wrightian home is now in a shared account of Netflix?