Less progress than Grandma experienced.

MY grandmother, who was born in 1905, spoke often about the immense changes she had seen, including the widespread adoption of electricity, the automobile, flush toilets, antibiotics and convenient household appliances. Since my birth in 1962, it seems to me, there have not been comparable improvements.

Of course, the personal computer and its cousin, the smartphone, have brought about some big changes. And many goods and services are now more plentiful and of better quality. But compared with what my grandmother witnessed, the basic accouterments of life have remained broadly the same.

That’s the opening of a recent Tyler Cowen column, and it surprised me. Read the rest here. Whether you agree with his points about economics, innovation and income, I think the underlying point about progress and the pace of change (and how it feels) is pretty provocative and very much worth pondering. Dedicated readers may remember this perhaps-related post on this site from 2007: “Totally Wildly Uprecedented Change, and Its Precedents.”

Nostalgia for blogs

Today a blog I read via RSS basically announced its own demise. The reason? The author now prefers Twitter. I checked the Twitter feed and it was, of course, far less substantial than the blog had been. In fact I didn’t seen a single tweet of interest, whereas this person’s earlier blog posts had been, with some regularity, worth a look. If I don’t “follow” this person, I miss the possibility of some future interesting tweet — at least a link I would have missed, something.On the other hand, if I do follow, I clearly have to wade through a bunch of garbage. The signal-to-noise ratio will clearly be way worse than it had been on the now-dying blog. I’m interested in this person’s thinking — but I’m not that interested.

Too bad. Maybe someone else who follows this person will pick up on the occasional interesting tweets and blog about them? Or will I eventually capitulate and start following, the days of (kinda) thought-out blog posts fading into —

Whoa, I better wrap this post up — it’s so long!

Just Looking


Randomly encoutnered on the Web site of Handmade Galleries, L.A.: Thumb wrestling masks.

Maybe these are old news. I don’t care.

In The New York Times Magazine: Pur Flavor Options

Want to stand out in a category that’s all about subtracting? Add something.

This week in Consumed, Pur Flavor Options, which allow you to add flavor to filtered tap water.

It may seem surprising, then, that a filter maker would attempt a kind of jujitsu move on the notion of purity: What if you took water with all the bad stuff screened out and . . . added something to it? …

But if Flavor Options suggests that progress on the front lines in the marketplace is incremental, it also offers proof of just how resistant the marketplace can be to limits. At a certain point, you would think, the race to purity gets won; eventually, you cannot get purer than pure. And yet, just as you can never actually drive to the horizon, the end point of “new and improved” simply does not exist.

Read the column in the January 11, 2009, issue of The New York Times Magazine, or here.

Consumed archive is here, and FAQ is here; The Times‘ Consumed RSS feed is here.

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Ingenuity and progress update: iFart

So maybe you already knew this, but I just noticed that the number-one selling paid app for the iPhone is: iFart.

It makes a variety of fart noises.

There’s a YouTube demo here, if you need one. The app costs 99 cents.

According to WiredNews, sales hit 10,000 a day in late December. Also this:

That’s pretty impressive, considering Apple previously didn’t believe fart applications met the standards of the App Store. In September, Apple rejected a similar novelty app called Pull My Finger on the grounds that it had “limited utility.” Just recently Apple reversed that decision and approved a number of other fart apps as well.

Take note that there are “a number of other fart apps.” I suppose that when trendmeisters earnestly ruminate on the new downturn-era insistence on only spending on things that have real value and utility, they’re talking about … iFart. Therefore, I look forward to the digital sneeze-powder or 21st century fake dog-doo that will lead us back to better economic times.

Murketing’s Sponsored Film Virtual Festival: “Design For Dreaming”

Design For Dreaming

[ –> Details on Sponsored-Film Virtual Festival are here.]

Design For Dreaming is the final entry in this virtual festival — and probably the best-known one. It’s even been mentioned on BoingBoing.

In part I assume this is because the film is — on one level — perfectly ridiculous, featuring a sort of Audrey Hepburn type who is “Delighted!” to see new cars that are “Oh so beautiful!” or whatever. It’s campy and funny. We all love to look at this sort of thing and snicker at how naïve people used to be. And without question, Design For Dreaming is absurd. But … I think there is more to be found here than that. Read more

A too-innovative toaster?

An April 2007 Consumed column used toasters as a case study in the question of innovation vs. novelty. Seth Godin offers an amusing smackdown of an unnamed toaster that apparently was a little too innovative for its own (or the buyer’s) good:

Here’s what I have to do to use it:
1. Choose the number of slices, and bagel or bread.
2. Remember whether it counts the slices from the left or the right (the left).
3. Insert the bread.
4. Push down the handle.
5. Choose toast or defrost.
6. Make sure the darkness level is right. (This doesn’t count, because it usually is).
7. Press on.
8. Wait till it beeps.
9. Lift the handle I pressed in #4.
10. Turn it off.

He’s not happy.

Dept. of The Future Is So Exciting I Can Hardly Stand To Wait For It

What could possibly top the amazing innovation of “High Definition” television?

The WSJ yesterday had the answer: “Even-Higher Definition” television. This could be the “next big thing” for TVs. (Link, subscriber-only, sorry.)

What will they think of next?

Could it be, perhaps, “Higher-Definition Even Than That” television?