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Occasionally I find myself wanting to use my space on this blog to air my prejudices, and this is one such occasion, so please feel free to turn off now.

Still here?


There, I’ve said it.

Thank you.

Let me, just for a minute, ask you to consider how we abuse the power of marketing. minishaver

For years I used an electric razor, defying the essential premise that unless the foil between skin and hula-dancing blades can be removed, there will always be a no-go area – a fine lawn left uncut when the ceremony is complete. Taking that foil barrier away is not an option; that way legal action lies.

Several hundred pounds-worth of those razors later, I finally caught on and moved to wet shaving, little knowing how intently I was being watched!

Replaceable blades – not the cheapest of options, but the shave was closer, and there was some pleasure to be derived from the routine. However, I guess I was not the only migrant, because suddenly the price of those blades inflated and the manufacturers (def. manufactured: made, or assembled in China) persuaded me that I needed two parallel blades, then three, then five…and then: a rotating head!

It was worth fifteen or twenty pounds, wasn’t it, to achieve that extra smoothness the fawning sycophant in the advertisements liked to rub herself against?

Well, no.

I discovered little packets of disposable razors that work well enough, cost about twenty pence a razor, and can each be made to last for at least a week of satisfactory shaves. I don’t get bothered by Miss F.S., and I stay that little bit richer. But I know I’m being watched…

Electric toothbrushes? Don’t get me started!

Yes, they are good for teeth: they massage gums, make a better job of cleaning, etc.. But do I need a buzzer to warn me when I’ve brushed my two minutes, or a low battery light, or a ‘special action’ guaranteed to remove more plaque? No. And I don’t need to spend £70 when I can get a basic model for £16.

Now let’s talk about cars.

Seriously, what do you need from a car? A bullet list:
• Four wheels, so it doesn’t fall over
• A roof, so you don’t get wet
• An engine, so you don’t just sit on the driveway wondering why you bought the thing
• Reliability, so you don’t sit at the roadside in the snow wondering…..
• Reasonable comfort, so you don’t get cramp
• Room for the shopping, child or other baggage.
What do you NOT need?
• ‘Performance’ – 0 to 60 miles per hour in 5.6 seconds, a top speed of 140 miles per hour (where, exactly?) and an engine that waits until your back is turned and then runs out of its prohibitively expensive oil.
• Rows of warning lights to tell you when your ‘stability program’ is malfunctioning, your engine management chip is unhappy, you are due for a service, your handbrake is on (you did learn to drive, didn’t you?), or your coffee in the cup holder is going cold.
• Tires so large their replacement will cause problems for the rubber industry and irreparable damage to your bank account.
• Insurance premiums that induce you to consider remortgaging your house each renewal month.
• Diagnostics locked in to ensure repairs can only be undertaken by a main agent, who therefore charges what he likes.
• ‘Fly-by-wire’ technology, so controls once linked perfectly reliably by cables and rods now aren’t, and the extra cost this involves. A certain variety of higher end car usually requires replacement of ‘handbrake motors’ every five years or so. These little gems zero in at around £400 per motor, and – wait for it – need to be replaced ‘in pairs’.

Handbrake motors? What?

I know, I’ve given a lot of space to cars, but make allowances. A. I’m a bloke, and B. After the house, your car is probably the biggest investment you will ever make. Arguably it is the biggest of all, for in your years of ownership it will depreciate almost as fast as your computer.

Advanced technology like this is not the dictat, but the natural result of marketing which leads us to believe we are in urgent need of the unnecessary. This constant pursuit of product ‘advantage’ is the forfeit we pay for bulk purchase and mass production at the manufacturing end of the scale. Ostensibly volume saves, but at the cost of flexibility.

And why rant I thus?

Because mass production now stands at the threshold of a further sophistication of technology – robotics. At least we have a defense for the cascade of superfluous function that flashes at us from shop windows if we know that the redundant buzzers and annoying flickers were installed in our razors and toothbrushes and cars by a human: but how do we accept the prospect that those dexterous fingers will be deposed soon by robots? When population is expanding exponentially why are we so intent upon putting people out of work? When our greatest resource is the human, why do we cut him out of the loop? We need him to purchase our ever more expensive, ever more uselessly over-equipped products, don’t we? How can he, if he has no money?

My contention is that there should be natural limits to certain kinds of activity that masquerade as ‘progress’; that the human ant survives best when it possesses least. Common sense decrees that there is a lazy scientist amid the legions of the very-clever who really wants robots to think for themselves, and if he actually succeeds in achieving that, the ‘Age of the Machines’ is a very real prospect.

Dear Mr. Connor…