we live in a world obsessed with technological progress. or, more precisely, a world in which specific aspects of the assumed future are fetishised at any time.
at the moment, if i could create an iphone app that could tell you how to scratch your posterior, i’m confident i could get a few people to buy it, and probably a lot more journalists to write about it.
in this world, it is my professional duty to help people with significant business interests at stake to predict what forms of technology are going to be important in society in the future.
this, clearly, is impossible.
fortunately, there are a range of appropriate philosophical statements that help me to avoid this tricky social situation. my favourite, hands down is this one, that i believe came from william gibson, via clay shirky (see right), via chris stephenson/mediation (see right)
“THE FUTURE IS HERE ALREADY. IT’S JUST NOT EVENLY DISTRIBUTED.”
i find this a very useful way to help explain things…like why devising marketing for mobile phones is not in fact a remote prospect, but a high priority in the countries of africa or the far east…or why i can guess what we’re all going to be doing in a couple of years by looking at what teenagers are doing now…
however, that wasn’t i wanted to talk about today. i just wanted to share my astonishment and perfectly obvious and everyday inventions that for some reason don’t seem to travel between continents, despite their obvious benefit.
so here we go. 5 bits of the present or recent past in the uk that for some reason haven’t made it to the USA.
1. the electric kettle
it’s not like you actually can’t get one. you can get our hands on a very small, travel-focused kettle. or, of course an electric hot water device to help you make coffee. but if you go into any american home, the changes are that any cup of tea you get made will be made from water boiled for 10 minutes in a large ceramic cauldron-like receptacle.
it’s slow. it wastes energy. it means you hurt your hands when you grab the handle, 9 times out of 10. but, even in walmart, no electric kettle. just crazy.
2. the affordable, healthy loaf of bread
so the USA is the third largest producer of wheat in the world, just marginally behind china and india. it’s population is built from many of the finest bread producing cultures all over the world. we live in an age obsessed with health, and in which decent quality food is widely available at affordable prices. but i just can’t get a decent loaf of bread anywhere in america for less than $5.
next time i go to london, i’m just going to fill an enormous suitcase with hovis and sell it round the corner from the farmer’s market.
ok, i know blu-tack itself has now been improved as white tack, and presumably clear tack is just around the corner too. maybe in the future, all kinds of tack will be unnecessary. for the moment, there are few better ways to attach a piece of paper to the wall.
actually i just looked it up, and you can get blue tack in the USA, on mail order, so the global community is gradually working to bring it here. presumably some slips in from Canada too, where it is called Zorkai. maybe also from Iceland, where it is known as “kennaratyggjo”, which means teachers chewing gum. but when i showed it to the otherwise worldly Berno of jumptank recently, he looked at me as if i was Buck Rogers.
i know i rant about this far too much already. i will keep it brief this time. but we all know that going through security or immigration in the USA is one of the most painful experiences the world has to offer. there is always, without fail, an incredibly uptight guy who will tell you as if he’s already said it 100 times to you that you have put your belt/shoes/laptop in the wrong place. but in fact they haven’t told you before. and you’re not an idiot (or a terrorist.) there just aren’t any signs telling you want to do.
it doesn’t matter whether you’re queueing for security, or queueing for a salad, in this country, no-one will tell you what to do at the last moment, and then they will be incredibly frustrated with you when you do it wrong. in london, germany, sweden and japan they solved this many years ago. put up some signs.
5. red traffic lights
this is maybe just a new york problem. i will no doubt find out soon when i go driving around shortly in far flung places like philadelphia and the catskills. but in new york, red lights are meaningless.
this sounds ridiculous of course. traffic lights are one of the iconic sights of new york. and they are everywhere, in huge quantities. but everywhere else in the world, they serve the function of making it clear when you can and can’t drive. basic rule – red means stop.
not in new york. i find myself constantly having cars nudging towards me as i cross the road, even when i have a light telling me to cross. is it ok to turn right on a red light? the truth is, NO-ONE KNOWS
sorry for the long break for any regular readers i have. i must have a few, because i recently celebrated 1,000 hits. thanks all. truth be told, at least a couple of hundred of them seem to be weird phantom hits from strange destinations. but thanks anyway.