The Curse of ‘Fit for Purpose’

A grey kitchen lies before you. Therein stands a person attempting to peel an apple. Painstakingly, they cut it slowly bit-by-bit with a knife.

“Couldn’t this be easier?” the advertisement asks.

Clearly the answer is meant to be ‘yes’. Out comes a shiny contraption, where linkages make short work of peeling the apple. Sunlight streams in, and for a moment, the world is briefly brighter.

As a child, bombarded with the slick, convenient Simulacra and Simulation reality presented by such ads, I saw a world far more convenient than my own, filled with the promises of evolutionary technology.

As an adult now I’ve been able to access such things, and as I’m sure many of you know, these kinds of appliance have a near universal description — ‘gimmick’.

Allow the troupe of fancy apple-corers, potato peelers, kiwi slicers into your home, and you will find they are useful a few times, then it may dawn on you as it did me that unless you are running an ‘In ’n’ Out Burger’ being able to mechanically separate potatoes from their peels only goes so far — after all, how much time are you really saving per potato?

So begins my mild revelation on the nature of modern consumerism.

See, I’m not much of a traditionalist — I mean, look at my tweets and maybe you’ll even clock me an anti-traditionalist, but that doesn’t mean that I am beyond recognizing that many of the modern ideas we end up being sold are just… ‘tat’.

There is undoubtedly a simple elegance about the tool of our forebearers: the simple knife can crudely peel potatoes, open packages, core apples, cut rope and twine; and though I hate to admit it to the crew who will tell me in no uncertain terms, cast iron cookware is just easier to use and maintain. The spray foam I spent my life shaving with is genuinely worse both in usability and longevity than compared to the paste that old-timey people and fancy barbers use, and that old-style soap that comes wrapped in paper and leaves your skin feeling dry until you moisturize really is better for washing your body.

My young life was coats and clothes from ASDA I’d patch up when broken and treated poorly and forgot. Those modern, no-iron shirts that came out of the wash looking, yes, admittedly like they needed no ironing, but also uncared for.

A realization, then, that the people on the past weren’t fucking around thinking how cool it was the world was flat. They lived lives defined by general tools that could solve many problems and solve them fairly well!

A child of the internet, when I mark the carpet with a little tea, I type ‘carpet cleaner’, or, doing a little research, ‘carpet shampoo’ into Amazon and am presented with hundreds of specialized cleaners. This one’s for pets, this one’s for ‘locked in stains’. Do I have a locked in stain? Who knows.

Then way down the line of finding my ‘Shazam’ specialized cleaner can’t even clean off this tiny water mark, I google just ‘how to clean marks off a carpet’, and find, like apparently everything, all I need is some ‘white wine vinegar’ and some water. The same goes for so much else. Though I once did chemistry, until I read all these articles ‘for housewives’ I did not realize that I can clean almost anything with isopropyl alcohol or remove dust and dirt so easily with a ‘good brush’.

Gone now, mostly are the wipes and feature-ful sponges I’d buy from Tesco, replaced with some white cotton rags that I simply use for nearly everything, and, if needed can simply bleach clean.

This is no ideological movement. I throw the rags in the washing machine on an auto wash-dry cycle — but it truly has astounded me how much the zeitgeist of ‘solve this one thing’ has caught me and my searches.

The modern people want so much one particular thing that the world moves to let us have it, uncaring for the folly of our requests.

I want to cook for myself and I Google recipes for make, and individually acquire ingredients. Once I’ve made that thing, what am to do but eat pre-prepped snacks? — or make the same increasingly perfect but boring lasagna for a month?

I buy bread only to have it go off because I’m making something else to eat and I don’t need it — then, when you make bread or pizza with no bread machine, you, I, one realizes that those long before me simply collected this practically immortal powder, mixed it with the most abundant liquid on earth, that they’d also be using for washing and cleaning — and make a food that is infinitely consumable as it is enduring in its appeal.

One day perhaps, imbued with the lost knowledge of those before ‘made for purpose’, I might simply visit the morning market or supermarket and buy “whatever’s in season” and improvise it into some delicious, long appreciated food.

The years I’ve wasted trying to see which pre-prepped frozen battered cod fillets have the least salt added to disguise their lack of freshness — when all I have to know is that a little salt, a little butter, some oil and maybe some MSG and you can eat nearly any meat as one might from that friend of yours who cooks so deliciously.

In 2021 could we have ever invented the mop or the simplicity of the flushing toilet? Would it take pods that come eyebrow-raisingly marked up, or be always connected to the internet? Perhaps specialized for different messes or ‘tailored to your needs’? Was that electric lighter really better in a pinch than the petrol fired one? Was that fountain pen I had to learn to use in school really worse than Biro, or was it truly that I’d bought into a modern, disposable idea of what such a pen should cost, without factoring in its lifetime.

Fuck classicism. Fuck ‘traditionalism’. But fuck consumerism too.

This is what I have learned.



i’m trying

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