Trusting in Tech
By: Kelly McDonald
The timer counted down. A focused quiet surrounded me as I hustled to get everything ready for the finale, carefully following each item on my checklist, making sure I had forgotten nothing. Suddenly, the incessant timer reached zero and an insistent beeping alerted anyone who might be in my kitchen that another dozen eggs were perfectly hard-boiled, ready for me to immerse them in the already prepared ice-water bath, curtailing any further internal cooking. Our Instant Pot had successfully executed another carefully constructed recipe for Beverly and me.
Cooking has been a fresh addition to my list of home activities since my recent retirement. Through most of our four decades of marriage, Beverly has carried the burden of home food preparation, while I worked long hours with information technologies in my career at BYU. I could scramble an egg when I needed to, or corral a meal from the leftovers in the fridge, but the primary activity of creating sit-down meals for the family came from many years of Beverly’s creative cooking efforts. Now that I’m mostly around home at mealtimes, I’ve taken up the task of preparing some of our home meals, building my catalog of well-working recipes, sitting alongside Beverly’s family-inherited, and her original creations, in our kitchen recipe drawer.
In addition, as our house has become more automated, filled with many technology assistants, Beverly has leveraged my past technical career and background at BYU, appointing me to be the Chief Technology Officer for our home. Back then, my profession was building trust with the University President’s Council in new products and technologies, such as using the Internet for education, enabling classrooms with high-tech accessories, touting the virtues of the latest laptop, running the campus data center, looking for ways to improve our institution through these new wonders. But now I spend a few hours each week making sure our home Wi-Fi works properly, the printer is functioning correctly, and TV channels are streaming. I give Beverly instructions on esoteric features of the Google applications which she uses to perform her church assignment, building her trust in my home technical innovations, a lot like my previous role, but on a much smaller scale.
So, when we received an Instant Pot as a Christmas gift from one of our sons a few years ago, Beverly took one look at the device as she unwrapped it—the many buttons, a thick manual of instructions, the high-tech motif it portrayed—then relegated it to our inventory list of ‘home tech’, under my capable technical oversight.
I know the drill. Like any new technology, I first become familiar with it by reading the manual, cover to cover. Then, I find some safe experiments to validate its operation. Boiling eggs seemed to be the perfect demonstration of our new food technology. I like a boiled egg in the morning, and so does my son, who often drops by with his two dogs to check on us. Why not boil a dozen eggs and put them back into a specially labeled carton in the refrigerator after cooking, ready to be eaten at a moment’s notice, vastly improving the overall efficiency of preparing the breakfast meal? Sounds like the perfect high-tech home solution.
This worked well for a while. However, the Instant Pot has a technical weakness. Its beeping alarm, signaling completion, can’t be heard beyond our kitchen. On one occasion, I went upstairs after preparing the Instant Pot, promptly forgetting that eggs were cooking in our newly acquired technology. After 30 minutes, I returned to the kitchen and discovered the remains, an awful smell, the many cracked shells. Even our son’s dogs wouldn’t eat the forgotten eggs.
I considered a high-tech solution to this audible inadequacy problem. Perhaps we needed the next higher model in the line of Instant Pots, one which would notify us over Wi-Fi of its cooking progress. That would be the typical solution I would have chosen in my former life—more tech. However, it was expensive to purchase, and the consequences, I knew Beverly would not approve; we would have to relegate the gift from our children to the basement closet, full of broken and abandoned technologies.
So, I enlisted the help of one of our high-tech home assistants to help solve the problem. We hired her a few years ago to support us in the kitchen and other locations throughout our house.
“Alexa, set a reminder.”
“What’s the reminder for?” she asked.
“Eggs.” I countered.
“When shall I remind you?”
“In fifteen minutes.” I said.
“Ok, I’ll remind you in fifteen minutes.”
“Alexa, thank you.”
“You’re so welcome.” She replied, “Your kindness really gives me a charge. Happy Wednesday.” Alexa can occasionally become a bit melodramatic. During that fifteen minutes, the Instant Pot heated the water from cold to boiling, then sealed the pressure valve and began the five minute timed journey to perfectly boiled eggs. When the timer expired, Alexa texted her reminder to my phone. With her help, the boiling of eggs returned to a perfect procedure.
As our Instant Pot continued to cook with precision, Beverly’s confidence in its output increased. I knew that the technology had finally arrived when she asked me if I would cook sweet potatoes in the Instant Pot for our recent Thanksgiving dinner, which we provided for some of our children and grandchildren. This is the main family meal throughout the year that Beverly executes perfectly. Usually I’m only trusted with carrying the cooked dishes of food from the kitchen to the dining table or carving the turkey. Our Instant Pot technology must be making a difference for it to gain her trust in such a short time. As a dutiful sous chef, I looked up the technical specifications for cooking sweet potatoes. It required twenty-five minutes of high-pressure cooking, with a ten-minute pressure release. Alexa and I could handle that. The sweet potatoes cooked perfectly. Even I had a second helping. The Instant Pot had finally arrived at the envious level of becoming a trusted technology in our home, helping to carry the burden of creating a smooth-running domestic domain for us.
A few days ago, Beverly asked if I would cook a pork roast in the Instant Pot. It would be the central star in a superb evening meal. I assured her that this amazing high-pressure cooking technology was ready for prime-time. Cooking tuber vegetables is one thing, forgiving of undercooking, patient with overcooking. But preparing the meat in our house must be perfectly executed. Not a hint of rawness must be visible. And cooking it a bit too long leaves it too tough and tasteless. I reviewed the Instant Pot cookbooks I had acquired. Some stated that pork required 15 minutes of high-pressure per pound. Others pushed the required time to 25 minutes. I was in a quandary. The pork roast label showed 1.64 pounds. Multiply that weight by 15, and the necessary high-pressure time equaled 24.6 minutes. However, multiply the weight by 25 and the time is 41 minutes. I decided to trust the shorter cooking recommendation. I set the Instant Pot for 25 minutes of high-pressure with a 10 minute pressure release.
All was going well. We timed the cooking of side dishes carefully to coincide with the completion of the Instant Pot. But when the high-pressure alarm sounded and the pressure release completed, I brought the pork roast to the table and sliced it in half. The results were obvious: too rare for our consumption. I put the pork roast back into the Instant Pot for another 10 minutes. But the damage to Beverly’s trust in this food technology had been done. She relegated the Instant Pot back to a secondary technical status, boiling eggs for dogs, and making auxiliary side dishes that are more forgiving.
That’s the cycle of technology, whether at a large university or in our happy home. The latest thing arrives, promising to resolve a frustrating problem, costing less, saving time, providing something new, exciting, and intriguing. Then, after gaining our trust, we can’t live without it, until it eventually fails, disappointing us. The cycle repeats. I’m hopeful that someday, the pork roast will be forgotten, and a new dish will find its way from the Instant Pot, to the center of our family’s Thanksgiving feast.