Sunday, January 29, 2012

Mousetraps and Ipads

We recently detected evidence of a mouse in our garage. I went immediately to the hardware store and bought a couple of mousetraps and noted that they looked and operated exactly as mousetraps did when I was a kid some sixty years ago. (I’m 70; bite me!) Somewhere out there, there’s a company that’s been able to manufacture the same wood and wire mousetrap for, lo, these sixty years with virtually no R & D and no appreciable embellishment of the product.
            Of course there were other traps for sale, one apparently designed to resemble crocodile jaws with menacing steel teeth. I opted for the tried and true wood and wire one.
            Last Monday morning, the talk on CBC News World focused on RIM’s change of chair and CEO. The focus was on the stock market reaction to the news. It got me thinking about the entire picture in the computer/cell phone/tablet market these days and, obviously, to compare it to the lowly mousetrap. Seems you can get away with producing the same old wood and wire mousetrap year after year and be successful—even without advertising—but that doesn’t hold true in the tiny tech industries. Subtle changes to whatever worked before, accompanied by massive PR, seems to be the only way to prosper when it comes to computers/cell phones/tablets.
            Here’s a statement you’re never likely to hear: “My dad used this tablet to do his email when he was a kid, and it’s still working great!”
A mousetrap my grandfather used, however, might well fill the bill for annihilating that one mouse in the garage.
            I’m a moderate consumer of technology, but a bit of a sucker for the slick, new devices that can do almost unimaginable tricks to make a one-minute job take only 50 seconds. In my office you’ll find a desktop computer with a terabyte of memory, a laptop, a Blackberry Playbook (manufactured by the struggling RIM), a laser and an inkjet printer, two scanners (one of which reads receipts and shunts them into pre-organized virtual file folders) and, of course, the telephone with caller-ID. I could pretty much spend the whole day playing with these toys without getting a lick of meaningful work done.
            The cornerstone of the capitalist market is the manufacturing of needs in order to stimulate consumption. I didn’t invent this observation, of course, but I have to remind myself of it from time to time, and so I’ve been amused recently by the patently contradictory messages of economic pundits in the news:
a)      consumer debt is getting out of hand and individuals and families need to save and draw down their debt. Meanwhile
b)      “consumer confidence” (euphemism for unrestrained shopping) has to rise in order for the economy to bounce back.
So, to be a good citizen, I should save 10% of my income monthly, but in order to help the economy, I should buy a new car, the down payment for which I’d have to borrow because of the saving thing, but I need to draw down my debt, so I should keep the old car and walk if it gives out. Or should I use the 10% I saved to make the down payment on a new car, thereby boosting the economy?
            It’s not surprising that the average citizen is confused on this subject.
            While you’re pondering that, consider a way to get rich in this mad, mad, Kevin O’Leary world: invent a wood (oak) and  wire (stainless steel) mousetrap in a choice of green, pink or beige with a built in chip which triggers a message (“Got the little b*****d”) on your TV screen when the jaws snap down on the victim out there in the garage.
            Of course, everyone would soon be producing a variation of this Cadillac of mousetraps, so massive advertising would be required. (I visualize a model that plays “Abide with Me” to accompany the mouse to the pearly gates.)
        . . . I got the mouse, by the way, and now I suffer from cognitive dissonance produced by the simultaneous existence of my abhorrence of killing and the fact of having murdered a mouse. That’s not unique to this event or this time; I have to re-convince myself that meat grows on trees before lacing into a steak.
Would that the corporate world had at least a similar conscience about their role in dumbing down our world . . . even further.

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