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My Video Doorbell Is Changing Me, Possibly Not for Better

Me, looking at myself through my own doorbell.EXPAND
Me, looking at myself through my own doorbell.
Jim Schutze
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We have one of those doorbells you can see out of. You know what I mean. With a TV camera in it? You can talk to people through your doorbell.

We were early adopters. When we first got our two-way doorbell, they were still fairly uncommon. We could still get a nice little jump out of the delivery guy by barking at him through the doorbell.


“What? [He’s looking all around.] What?”


Now everybody’s got them. I say, “Thank you very much,” into my cell phone, and the delivery guy just half-waves behind his back at the doorbell, like, “Get a life, buddy.”

I forget why we got it. I think it was because being able to see people through our doorbell just seemed really cool. But as soon as we had one, we decided that all the gifts Santa was sending people were being thieved off front porches by a great army of front-porch grinches, and it was our duty and even our sacred mission in life to catch them with our two-way doorbell.

We have joined at least a couple of networks devoted to catching package thieves, and we get reports from far and wide, very far and very wide. I think some of these reports may even be coming in from other states. It’s absolutely astounding how many people are out there, not exactly stealing the packages maybe but walking right past the front porches where the packages are and looking sideways at them. We’ve got video.

Having a two-way doorbell does strange things to you sometimes. I had a very strange encounter with a guy one day through my doorbell. He was pretty obviously a homeless person. I wasn’t at home, but that’s the other cool thing: You can lie and say you’re at home when you’re not. So I did.

We wound up chatting for quite a while. None of it made much sense. Somehow we got off into philosophy. Finally I noticed that, unlike most people you talk to through your doorbell, he wasn’t stooping and trying to speak back to the doorbell.

And then it struck me. He didn’t care where I was. I could have been in a tree. Or not there at all. Fine with him.

The whole thing takes getting used to. If someone pushes the doorbell, it rings on my cell phone wherever I am. But the doorbell also has a motion detector, so anything that moves around much right in front of the doorbell makes a little chiming sound on my phone.

When I first had it, I thought I wanted to see anything that was moving around on my porch, in case it was a grinch. But nine times out of 10 it was the feral cat my wife feeds on the front porch, and I swear he was staring right at the doorbell, kind of standing there like Puss ‘N Boots in his boots jabbing one paw toward the bowl and mouthing, “M.T.!!!!”

There’s a sharp hissing sound I can make through the doorbell that makes the cat jump. Maybe that’s how he learned where I was.

I finally readjusted some of the settings. I was at work in a story meeting one day, and I realized I had sort of lost the thread because I was staring at the feral cat on my porch at home. I knew that was not a good thing, so I re-did the settings to block him. But he’s started showing up again lately. He must have figured something out.

Speaking of which, our adult son, the magician, comes back to town during the holidays for a work gig and stays with us. He has a key. He thought he was funny at first, letting himself into the house in front of the doorbell with a plastic garbage bag over his head, but that was too disturbing. Now he has figured out some way to walk right past the doorbell without being seen. Way more disturbing.

In fact, I think the whole two-way doorbell thing has a deeper effect on people psychologically than we may suspect at first. I was fishing with some guys on Lake Texoma, and the motion detector ting-a-ling'd on my phone, so I looked at it. It was my wife leaving the house. I said to the phone, “Where are you going?”

A strangely disembodied voice replied: “None of your business.” So I put the phone away.

They were all staring at me. I said, “It was my wife. I could see her through my doorbell. She was going somewhere. So I asked her where she was going. She told me it was none of my business.”

They were still all staring at me. One of them started shaking his head. “Oh, Jim,” he said. “I just … I don’t know if that’s a good thing.”

“Not good at all,” another one said.

“Seems like it would change the whole institution of marriage,” another said.

Oh, fine. It’s just a damn doorbell. I pretty much stopped looking at it for the rest of the fishing trip, except for a couple of times when it was the cat. I overcame an impulse to hiss at the phone.

But it does kind of invade you. It has night vision. There is some kind of infrared camera in it that allows you to look out from the front porch when it’s dark outside, but what you see on your phone is all black and white and spooky like a horror movie. For a while I was waking up at 4 a.m. and looking out there.

At that hour the street is a black-and-white dreamscape, motionless, silent, haunted. And then here comes the damn cat, menacing in black and white, staring at the doorbell and jabbing at the dish: “M.T.!!” Or did I dream that? By morning I can’t remember.

What if we had two-way cameras in every room? I think that might actually be what they call the end times.

There is something about the ads for these things on TV that I do not like at all. They all show these bad guys out on the porch or in the driveway about to filch a package, and then there’s this dweeb-y little dude inside the house staring at his phone.

In the ads, the dweeb says something very unconvincingly tough into his phone like, “All right you fellows, you had better scat now!” And the bad guys all run off in a great yodeling, arm-flapping stampede.

I just don’t know that I believe that. How long would that work? I mean, look, the feral cat has it figured out already. My son can walk right through it, and he’s invisible. What if the grinches start growling back at the doorbell: “We’re comin’ in though the doorbell, dude, and we’re gonna getcha!”

Anyway, there’s something I just don’t like about a model of the world in which we’re all little dweebs sitting inside on our sofas hissing at our cell phones. It feels very claustrophobic. I think after a while I’d want to go out there myself and steal some packages just for the fresh air.

So what I’m really waiting for — scouring Amazon, in fact — is the first two-way doorbell Taser. You know it has to happen. It’s inevitable.

You’d have to warn people, of course. You’d have to put up some kind of sign: “We can see you, and we can Tase you.” I promise I would never do that to the cat.

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