One Old-Timer’s Electrifying Brush With Our Future

    Procter and Gamble, the same company that brought shaving into the jet age with the world’s first triple-blade safety razor, has just revolutionized the toothbrush industry. In a fit of inspiration, the mavericks at the Lockheed-Martin of toiletries have developed the Oral-B “Triumph” ProfessionalCare 9400 power toothbrush, the world’s first toothbrush with an onboard computer.

    You heard right: a toothbrush with an onboard computer.

    I was confused at first, too. My immediate reaction, I’m ashamed to admit, was to burst out laughing. I should be more appreciative of innovation, I know. It’s just that even with 20 years of tooth-brushing experience, I didn’t have the slightest idea how a computerized toothbrush would even begin to work. Fortunately, the Oral-B Web site set me straight.

    First, I learned that I was using all the wrong lingo. In my day — say, two years ago — we talked about “brushing” and, if you were especially progressive, “flossing.” But that way of thinking went out with side-ponytails and “Saved by the Bell.” In the future, we will talk about the “oral hygiene experience” and “clinically superior cleaning.” We may also become more German and start linking words together like so many sausages, as in Oral-B’s trademarked “ProfessionalCare,” “FlossAction,” “PowerPolisher” and “MicroPulse.” Our toothbrushes will be the first to adapt, however: The ProfessionalCare 9400 displays information in 13 different languages.

    Second, I discovered that the dental hygiene of the future is far more dangerous than I had ever imagined. Today, killing yourself with a manual toothbrush takes considerable effort and more than a little creativity. But with the Oral-B “Triumph” ProfessionalCare 9400, death by electrocution is just a toilet bowl away. Accordingly, page six of the toothbrush’s 35-page(!) instruction manual is dedicated to safety. We will live on a knife’s edge.

    Third, I found that brushing one’s teeth is not as simple as I once thought. For one, it’s actually possible to brush too hard — and that’s where the ProfessionalCare 9400’s microchip shines. The brush head has special pressure sensors that measure how much force you’re putting on your teeth. If you’re pushing too hard, the toothbrush will automatically adjust its motion to compensate. Now that’s progress.

    For some reason, this dental wunderkind (look it up; in the future, you’ll need to know what it means) reminded me of a trip to Disneyland I took a few years back. I hadn’t been to Disneyland in a long time, and a lot had changed. The lines were longer, the hot dogs were far more expensive, and the helpful voice that told me to keep my hands inside the vehicle at all times also told me to mantengaser sentado, por favor.

    But Tomorrowland, which was always my favorite land as a spoiled kid, had changed the most. “Captain Eo” had disappeared at about the same time as Michael Jackson’s masculinity; the leisurely People Mover was now a rocket-powered bullet train; and the real rocket ride had shed its Saturn V skin in favor of something more colorful and insect-like.

    And then there’s the big revolving theater that everyone ignores. The theater used to have a singing animatronic eagle that scared the hell out of me as a kid, but this had changed, too. Instead of the demon-bird show, it was a big exposition showcasing the technology of tomorrow. Inside, a real-live man who moved and talked like a salesman told us about all the amazing things that the kitchen of the future would have.

    A mixer that precisely measures and mixes your cookie dough, ensuring a homogenously perfect distribution of chocolate chips. An oven that senses when your casserole is done, and automatically shuts itself off. An Internet-savvy refrigerator that lets you choose from a catalog of recipies, and, after a brief consultation with your pantry, orders whatever ingredients you’re missing from the local grocery store.

    At first, I was overwhelmed with sentimentality. “But I like mixing my own cookie dough,” I complained. “I like going to the grocery store and talking to the produce lady.”

    But the salesman wasn’t finished. We turned a corner, and he showed us a high-tech robotic dog being developed in Japan. It was superior to an actual dog in many ways, the salesman assured us. It was fully programmable, and could learn far more verbal commands than any real dog. It wouldn’t need to be cleaned up after, it wouldn’t dig holes in the neighbor’s yard and it wouldn’t chase cats unless you told it to. Best of all, it could be turned off when you didn’t want it.

    And it would never die.

    Again, I was foolishly filled with mixed emotions. I couldn’t argue that the robot wasn’t technically superior to a real dog. It was a very convenient dog. But still I was uneasy. Maybe I like personality better than obedience.

    But the ProfessionalCare 9400 power toothbrush has changed all that. Now, I’m so excited about technology that I’ve started designing the next-generation electronic toothbrush. In addition to an onboard computer, it will have high-speed wireless and a Web cam, so you can get real-time brushing advice from your dentist. It will download your dental records and modify the brush speed to personally optimize your oral hygiene experience.

    Plus, it’ll be laser-guided, with infrared plaque sensors and fly-by-wire pitch control. And maybe a hand-warmer.

    To be sure, my toothbrush will have its detractors. As that fuddy-duddy John Steinbeck wrote in 1952’s East of Eden:

    “There are monstrous changes taking place in the world, forces shaping a future whose face we do not know. Some of these forces seem evil to us, perhaps not in themselves but because their tendency is to eliminate other things that we hold good.”

    But fortunately, that part is buried way in chapter 12, and it’s not even addressed in the movie version, whereas you can load up the Oral-B Web site right now and see the technological wonder of tomorrow’s tootbrush. Watch the video:

    “For consumers who want the very best for their teeth and gums, there is no going back.”

    Amen, brother, amen.

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