Readers of The Weekly Curmudgeon may have correctly noted my frequent preference for the way things used to be. That is not to say that everything was better in the old days; many things were not. Whenever I say, “I wish I lived in the time when people still dressed for the theatre and airline travel, when common courtesy was still common, and when correct use of our English language was at the very least a mutually agreed-upon goal,” someone always pipes up with “But there was more racism and sexism then,” as if we were actually considering whether we ought to travel back in time to the 1950s and they needed to urge me to reconsider that reckless decision by pointing out the consequences. These concerned citizens needn’t worry that my selective nostalgia might hurtle us into the past and undo all the progress we’ve made. If I had that kind of power, I wouldn’t be sitting around curmudgeoning. So let’s all relax, please. It’s reasonable to regret the loss of virtues that happened to have coexisted with evils.
One of the things I sometimes miss is the simplicity and clarity of product specialization. Once upon a time, shampoo shampooed; conditioner conditioned. There were toasters and there were ovens, and never did the twain combine. The same was true of clocks and radios—different tools for different tasks. Phones made and received phone calls . . . and that’s all they did. The Swiss Army knife was the one, sensible representative of what would someday be called multifunctionality, though given the lack of action the Swiss Army encountered, I imagine opportunities to use these clever devices were scarce.
There’s no inherent harm in the concept of combining tasks into one tool. The boombox, logically, allowed people to listen to their choice of radio or cassette, and later radio or CD. But the squashing together of as many functions as possible, related or not, into the same apparatus is reaching a boiling point. Our phones now house maps, flashlights, cameras, video and audio recording technology, games, research tools, typing keyboards, calendars, and more, all part of an ever-growing collection of computerized doohickeys. And while I certainly use and appreciate many of these features, I also miss using the library for research, deciphering paper maps, and occasionally being unreachable.
But I digress. The larger point is, functions don't always go well together. A bird feeder/shoe rack would not make a lot of sense, and I’m not sure we’d need a soap dispenser that also dispenses ice cubes, or a hairbrush that can shine your shoes. Similarly, not all activities ought to be combined. Mrs. Curmudgeon and I greatly enjoy working on a jigsaw puzzle while listening to a podcast. The two activities complement each other nicely. But working on a jigsaw puzzle while doing one’s taxes would be a somewhat less advisable combination.
And that brings us to the star of this week’s column. Presenting, 3M’s inspired new invention, the Worktune Connect Wireless Hearing Protector Noise-Canceling Headphones with Bluetooth Compatibility. As we know, noise-canceling headphones are extremely helpful while working in loud environments. In fact, they could be considered necessary for protection against hearing loss. But the thoughtful folks at 3M have now taken the idea a step further by adding the ability to listen to music and podcasts, get notified of incoming texts, and yes, as the commercial boasts, “make and take calls without missing a beat.” This means you can now operate that noisy table saw, nail gun, drill, belt sander, band saw, router, planer, grinder, or machine gun while you talk on the phone. What could possibly go wrong?
One amateur reviewer said he loves 3M’s Worktune Connect Wireless Hearing Protector Noise-Canceling Headphones with Bluetooth Compatibility because “One of my big concerns is that I get bored.” Now, he happily reports, he can stay entertained, “and I don’t have to hear my tractor.” Finally, one can be relived of limiting one’s focus to the boring task at hand, be it cutting the lawn or operating a jackhammer, or, for that matter, operating on a patient. Those long transplant procedures can be so dull. Why not catch up with a friend to pass the time?
With this visionary step forward in multitasking technology, I believe the world is finally ready for even greater advancements in ill-advised multifunctionality, such as the pogo stick/landmine detector, the hedge clipper/nose hair trimmer, and the electric cheese grater that displays up-to-the-minute sports scores while you grate.
Someday, inevitably, every imaginable function will be housed in the same all-purpose, multi-operational device,
dangers be damned. The Curmudgeon can only hope I’ve passed on by then, buried neatly in my combination cremation urn/piggybank/nightlight/Keurig.