A voice controlled toaster. Optically triggered floss dispenser. A catflap powered by network services.
These are the sort of innovations visionary technological entrepreneurs feel we will need and, more importantly, be prepared to buy.
Entrepreneurs. The very word suggests they get in the damn’ way, and many of their gadgets are precisely the sort of thing new-age declutterers advice us against at all costs. Why? because they fill our lives and our heads with meaningless nonsense and occupy our valuable time with useless gadgeteering.
I need to connect my toaster to the Wi-Fi. My floss dispenser needs a new battery. My catflap no longer recognizes my cat.
Although these devices show how smart the engineers are — just how do they do facial recognition on my cat, anyway? — they do nothing to enrich our lives.
You know what? Before I buy a television that watches me and decides whether I’m enjoying the program, I would like a microwave that doesn’t block my Wi-Fi. Or Wi-Fi that is immune to radiation from my microwave. Instead of a virtual reality cake-baking game, I would like a shower head that doesn’t drip. I’d like a genuinely easy to use alarm clock that doesn’t wake me at 6am on a Sunday. A unified remote control that actually works. How about — and I know this is stretching it a little — how about no-clog gutters that really don’t clog?
Thankfully, whoever invented slip-on shoes left it to someone else to invent gps-enabled boots.
I have myself, as have we all I’m sure, invented many genuinely useful things. The wrist-mounted tape dispenser for wrapping gifts. The driver alert when a car ahead has stopped. A self cleaning hamster cage.
Unfortunately, as also have we all, shortly after inventing these genuinely useful things I notice them advertised on television, in my local warehouse superstore, or — worse — in the dollar store 2-for-1 bin.
This tells me that most genuinely useful things have already been invented, and the only thing artificial intelligence, internets of things, and wireless magic can offer is fundamentally useless innovation. And useless not in Oscar Wilde’s good sense, in which only useless things are to be admired; useless in the sense of a quite literal waste of time.
You can generally tell a useless innovation by the lengths the innovator is prepared to go to explain why you need it. There’s no clear and obvious reason why you should include that optically triggered floss dispenser in your life. So the reason has to be completely unrelated to its primary purpose, which is to provide floss. Reasons always span the ludicrous spectrum:
Informational. It can alert you when you haven’t flossed.
Conspiratorial. It integrates with your online shopping service to ensure you’re never without floss.
Educational. It offers to send a daily floss-related mantra to your cellphone.
Economical. It increases the value of your existing home network just by connecting to it.
Delightful. It has a color-changing mode.
Inexplicable. It requires a password.
Unfathomable. It is available bundled with the same company’s facial-recognizing artificially intelligent Wi-Fi catflap.
Clearly, they’re breaking Wilde’s rule and trying to claim something is both useful and admirable. It’s a red flag.
So my resolution is to follow his rule and surround myself with inventions that are either entirely useful but not at all admirable, or essentially useless but completely inspirational.
A great can-opener, the free floss dispenser I got at my last checkup, a functional catflap.
Books, music, and a good looking garden.
If it’s wif-fi enabled, has its own web page, or is powered from a usb adapter then I probably don’t need it, or I have it and it’s on its way to goodwill.