Cans of shit and salt speakers

I am not a fan of modern art.

By http://www.comics.org/coverview.lasso?id=210740&zoom=4, Fair use, Link

I am a fan of some modern artists. Salvador Dalí did some interesting things with surrealismPiet Mondrian chased ideas about form and color from impressionism to neoplasticism. Jackson Pollock tore down ideas of structure and technique.

The Golden Age of Comic Books directly overlapped Modern Art and contains some of the most interesting storytelling, well-architected art, and genre-defining sequential art that has been produced.

I, can, in other words, still appreciate whole floors of MOMA or the Tate Modern, though I still think the view of the Thames is the best part of the museum.

On the other hand, Roy Lichtenstein ripped off truly great sequential art artists like Jack Kirby without credit and should have all his brushes broken.1)And that’s one of my nicest personal opinions on the pop art movement.

And then there’s this guy, whose work was so “what the fuck?’ that when we reached the 60s in Art History, even my college art professor opened his lecture by telling us that the definition of art is very much in the eye of the beholder and oh by the way, even he didn’t agree that putting your shit in a tin can and labeling it art actually made it art.

Or this guy, who built an entire machine that eats food, “digests” it, and produces quasi-imitation shit, which he then signs and sells at $1,000 a poop.

Art may be in the eye of the beholder, but shit whose only purpose is to make money for its creator is still shit.

Which leads us to an interesting contrast I noticed recently between As Seen on TV products and some other recent products that have worked their way out of the Silicon Valley region of the US recently.

Let’s look at two things that looks like a money grab that nobody would actually need for a moment: the Snuggie and the Sock Slider.

The Sock Slider is a plastic cradle with a long handle. You stretch your socks over the cradle, set it on the ground (with assistance by the handle) and use the handle to hold it steady while you slide your foot through.

The Sock Slider in action

My initial reaction when the ad came on during an episode of the original Perry Mason last night2)You were all spared a screed on plot holes the size of a tanker truck in Perry Mason and The Twilight Zone by this advertisement, by the way. was “Seriously?”

Then I remembered something that someone3)I wish I could remember who had mentioned online a few years ago: many “as seen on TV” products are designed for people with disabilities, but marketed for everyone.

The Sock Slider is totally unnecessary if you can reach your feet, and if your feet are easy to lift and move around. That’s great for those of us who are not very pregnant, injured, or dealing with cognitive or neuropathy issues. Then, one finds oneself asking “why are my feet all the way down there and how the hell am I supposed to put this tube around them?”4)Especially if one’s name is “anne gibson” and one has injured one’s hip — again. According to a recent review, that could be as high as 18 million people in the US.

The Snuggie is a large blanket with a neck hole and sleeves. Yes, that does sound a lot like the description of a delightful jacket. Unlike a delightful jacket, the Snuggie is designed to be worn with the opening in the back.5)A delightful hospital gown, if you will.

The Snuggie, which looks like a ridiculously unnecessary thing if you don’t need to put a blanket on someone in a wheelchair (or a stroller or a bed) and have it stay on, is a godsend for those times that you do. Blankets slide off easily as you wiggle around. Most of us don’t notice all that much because we can fix them ourselves. But if we can’t? Having a blanket that our caretaker can dress us in because it’ll stay put makes a damn large load of sense.

By Melody Lengenberg, Ismini Kokkinou – Own work, Public Domain, Link

The Snuggie and the Sock Slider are products that fill a very strong audience need for a small audience effectively6)your mileage may vary, and also fill less-critical needs and convenience (especially the Snuggie) for the rest of the population. They’re like a good, accessible website that way — they make life easier for everyone and much easier for certain audiences of everyone.

I can, in other words, appreciate a good product designed as a money-maker, but a money-maker that fills the needs of a diverse audience at a reasonable price. Even if I personally still think Crocs are an abomination before the Lord.

On the other hand, there’s these folks, who put out a $400 fruit juicer. A juicer that required you to buy the fruit packets from the Juicero juice company instead of your supermarket because there was a barcode (read: DRM software) to “protect quality” and drive product lock-in. Oh yes, this is as internet-connected $400 DRM-protected juicer.

They had $120mil in funding. Companies like Google invested in this buy-the-laser-printer-pay-for-the-toner, Uber-for-fruit-but-in-all-the-bad-ways juicer because somehow buying a juicer or a blender or a food processor, as well as fruit from the supermarket (which hey, possibly delivers now!) and dumping the fruit in there (which hey! frozen fruit works as well as fresh!) was somehow not as worthwhile or financially responsible.

Oops. Image by Bloomberg.

One problem: This is a $400 wifi Internet of Things DRM-protected juicer that most people didn’t need to buy because they could squeeze the fruit packets with their bare hands.

Which is approximately as worthwhile an investment as $1,000 for a genuine signed-by-the-artist machine shit.

And then there’s these folks, who have decided that what you need as a centerpiece at the table is a salt shaker. A sleek, beautifully sculpted salt shaker. A wifi-and-bluetooth-enabled salt shaker that doubles as a music speaker. An Internet of Things music speaker centerpiece that has color-changing mood lighting. A LED-encrusted IoT music speaker centerpiece that dispenses salt the usual way or lets you ask Alexa to dispense it for you in a “fun interactive way to shake salt and bring out the flavor”.

Smalt, from Time.com

Now, I know we’re all different and just as I am not the right audience for Andy Warhol’s eight-gazillion pink Marilyn Monroe faces, I am probably not the right audience for the singing rock dispenser. If I’m having a party I can’t usually get everyone around a single table where a centerpiece makes sense… and if I can get them around a table we’re all way too busy talking to listen to music… and even if there’s music, I can fit at least one more dip on the table by swapping that thing out for the $7 classic Farberware salt and pepper shakers on Amazon.

You get both salt *and* pepper shakers for one low price of seven dollars.

Some of the technology that we’ve invented in the last ten years has been amazingly helpful and effective and life-changing. From the smartphone to the Snuggie, we’ve changed our world by the things we’ve chosen to design.

Some of the technology that we’ve invented has not.

When we’re choosing what to work on, as designers or engineers or people, when we’re choosing what to buy and who to fund, we have to remember that there are people in the world whose goal is to sell us a tin can of shit and swear they’re making a world-changing statement.

Quality technology may be in the eye of the beholder, but shit whose only purpose is to make money for its creators is still shit.

Notes   [ + ]

1. And that’s one of my nicest personal opinions on the pop art movement.
2. You were all spared a screed on plot holes the size of a tanker truck in Perry Mason and The Twilight Zone by this advertisement, by the way.
3. I wish I could remember who
4. Especially if one’s name is “anne gibson” and one has injured one’s hip — again.
5. A delightful hospital gown, if you will.
6. your mileage may vary

Author: Anne Gibson

Anne Gibson is Senior UX Designer and general troublemaker for a big/small technical company outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She's an editor and writer at The Interconnected. She is also published at A List Apart and The Pastry Box, and has a few pieces of short fiction being published in anthologies in 2017.