Today, October 28, This Day in Twilight Zone History celebrates the 1960 debut of "A Thing About Machines."
Years before cell phones, personal computers, A.I., and autonomous vehicles became a reality, Rod Serling was in the advance guard of those, warning us about a world of machines – and what might happen if they started to fight back. In this episode, ordinary, everyday devices – typewriters, shavers, television sets -- join forces to battle a true curmudgeon: food critic Bartlett Finchley (Richard Haydn), a man who has no patience for inefficiency. Frankly, if I were an electric shaver, I would have attacked the decidedly unpleasant Finchley, too.
Serling really tapped into a daily issue with this one – how many times a day do we interact with a machine, expecting a certain result and getting nothing in return. Whether it's a dead battery, a computer glitch, a faulty air conditioner, or a clothes steamer that won't steam, we battle back with a tirade of expletives, and sometimes we actually stomp on and destroy the machine itself.
Serling was no luddite – he embraced technology. In fact, he acted out each of his 92 teleplays into a dictation machine (just like Keenan Wynn in the celebrated Richard Matheson episode "A World of His Own"). But Serling – in another one of his great "What If?" episodes – was the first to give consciousness to the machine world, influencing so many future movies and TV shows, from deadly exercises like Christine, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and Colossus: The Forbin Project to whimsical ones like My Mother the Car, Knight Rider, and The Brave Little Toaster.
So let us raise a beaker of motor oil, grease, and lubricant to the machines of the world – and to Rod Serling, a 20th-century Paul Revere warning us that they are coming … and to be nice.