In 1999, the world met Aibo, the $US2500 robotic dog from Sony. The following year brought quite the litter of less expensive mechanised pups. Real dogs, however, had mixed feelings about their cyber counterparts.
There was the immobile singing Poo-chi by Tiger Electronics, a company that also made the i-Cybie, which could lift its leg and roll over. The $US99 Fisher-Price Rocket the Wonder Dog, which was operated via infrared headset, could burp and scratch itself. There was also Tekno by Manley Toy Quest, Big Scratch and Lil' Scratch by Trendmasters, Puppy Magic by Toy Biz and more.
Many people who had both real dogs and fake dogs decided to see what would happen when the two worlds collided.
If I had a fake dog... you know, the idea seems so preposterous to me that I can't even go there. My real dog is looking at me as I sit here on my shiny computer which is flanked by my shiny iPod and phone. "Aren't you glad I don't require electricity to operate?" he is saying with his eyes. "Don't you want to take me to the park and escape the backlit cyber world you are immersed in so many hours a day?" Why yes, Amos, I do. Now stop dragging your butt.
If these cyber versions were meant to appeal to real wannabe dog owners, I think they should've made them look a little more doglike. Would it have been so hard to slap some fake fur on these things? I'm thinking they could've goon with some Muppet fur - shaggy blue, maybe. Or Elmo red. Who wants a pet that looks like Robocop? Also: My real dog earns his keep by licking clean the dinner plates and jumping in the laps of cute guys at the park. The cyber curs had no such uses. If I'm going to shell out that kind of money for a non-breathing pet, I'd at least like if it could second as a vacuum.
Nevertheless, many robotic dog owners thought it'd be very original and clever and hilarious to introduce their real pet to their fake pet, as evidenced by the following videos...
German Shepherd doesn't let Aibo touch its meat
Sparky gets in some hot two-on-one action with a Doberman and a Chihuahua
Dog asks the Poo-Chi why it isn't wearing any clothes
A cat watches an impertinent iCybie take a pee
This particular school of cinema reached its nadir with robo-dog snuff films
Anna Jane Grossman will be with us for the next few weeks, documenting life in the early aughts, and how it differs from today. The author of Obsolete: An Encyclopedia of Once-Common Things Passing Us By (Abrams Image) and the creator of iamobsolete.net, she has also written for dozens of publications, including the New York Times, Salon.com, the Associated Press, Elle and the Huffington Post, as well as Gizmodo. She has a complicated relationship with technology, but she does have an eponymous website: AnnaJane.net. Follow her on Twitter at @AnnaJane.