I wonder dear reader, if you would be so groovy as to ponder a query that has been rattling about in my cranial cavity for some time now:
How did life become so complicated?
What I mean by that is: How have the simplest acts of our lives become so encumbered with complexity and convolution?
In the race to “make our lives easier,” product manufacturers have latched on to an obsession (and I use that word advisedly) with design for design’s sake, or to put it another way, over-designed and over-engineered products.
You still aren’t sure what I’m on about. Quite so. Allow me instead to use an exemplar to illustrate my conundrum.
Take this business of one’s morning ablutions. When greeting the morning’s promise, we are compelled – by nature as much as by the tenets of taste and good hygiene – to refresh oneself in the chamber designated for such acts.
The processes performed here seem simple enough on the surface, but on closer inspection, it becomes clear that we’ve turned the simple act of “getting ready for the day” into a production worthy of a Gilbert and Sullivan stage show.
The sheer volume of tinctures, creams, pastes, liquids, concoctions and recondite gadgetry is enough to unseat one’s reason.
Now at this moment dear reader, you may fear that I am about to carelessly fall into the trap of lamenting the processes women undertake of a morning. I must beg your pardon when I say, with all due respect… Uh-uh!
No ladies and gentlebeings of the jury, I will not use this space to traduce or malign those who are the proud bearers of two fine and quite serviceable X chromosomes. I will instead turn to gentleman-shaped humans of the male persuasion.
The process of, shall we say, landscaping one’s facial topiary – as a gentleman is wont to do during his usual AM routine – is a perfect example of this over-complication to which I’m referring.
Where once we would reach for a brush, some shave cream and a Sweeney Todd model straight razor, we’re now presented with preparatory pre-shave creams, after-shave treatments, beard oils, and any number of other liquidus or gelatinous ointments and salves bearing delightful ingredients such as stearic acid, myristic acid, potassium hydroxide, triethanolamine (whatever that is), parfum (Pardon moi), sodium hydroxide, toe of frog and eye of newt.
All these convoluted concoctions however pale in the face of the cornucopia of contraptions and gadgetry that are foisted on us daily by the men’s facial care industry and their tireless marketing machine.
The simple razor has been upgraded – or more accurately, mutated – into a multi-bladed whizz-bang apparatus that looks more like a Transformer than a device for shaving. Powered 18-bladed monstrosities with pivoting heads, cooling strips, power steering and an optional altimeter.
You have NO IDEA how useful it is, when in the process of expunging oneself of excess facial fur, to know precisely how high one is above sea level.
(On reflection, methinks that last sentence may be more accurate than even I’m prepared to admit.)
This obsession with over-designing products isn’t limited to the world of shaving. I recently saw a commercial for a brand new style of hairdryer that promised, and I quote:
“…engineered for balance…”
Just to recap, this is for a hairdryer. Not a samurai sword, crafted by artisans using centuries-old techniques. A hairdryer. Used – one assumes – for drying hair.
The really insane thing is, that phrase isn’t just marketing fluff. I have no doubt the designers and engineers really did attempt to build the product to absurdly exacting specifications.
Ladies and gentlemen and assorted visiting carbon-based lifeforms, I’m as much a fan of well-made products as the next human. If I’m purchasing a product, even a mundane one, I want it to be of decent quality and last to the end of the week at least.
However this obsession with design for its own sake has become an absurd excuse to charge premium prices for products that, in all likelihood, are no better than less expensive, less designed and, it must be said, less “balanced” products. It’s not “form over function,” it’s form instead of function.
Don’t misunderstand me here dear reader. I’m not suggesting that we turn into modern-day Luddites, abandon all manner of modern contrivance and return to an agrarian lifestyle, bartering for the things we need with a currency of chickens, goats and the occasional yak. That would be absurd. (And our wallets would have to be HUGE.)
The last thing we need is a balanced hairdryer. What we need is a slightly more balanced life.
Now that… is something worth designing.