March 25th, 2005


better living through technology

It is astounding how, in a very short period of time, technology has provided so many convenient tools. It’s hard to even begin to enumerate these things. It wasn’t all that long ago when running water meant sprinting from the well, trying not to slop too much out of the bucket. And these innovations touch us in even the most mundane of ways, easing our lives through the accumulation of tiny improvements.

Let me give you an example. Let’s say you wanted to eat a piece of cheddar cheese. In the old days, you would need to get the cheese out of the refrigerator, remove the cheese from the plastic wrap, take a knife (old technology) and carefully cut a piece of the appropriate size from the block of cheese, taking care not to slip and cut your fingers in the process. Then one day my old roommate Bruce brought home a device meant to bring the art of cheese cutting into the 20th century. The Cheese Garage, as I called it, was a rectangular plastic block slightly smaller than a standard brick, with a garage door on one end, and a crank on the side. Let’s examine the process of getting a piece of cheese using new technology.

First, you take the cheese out of the refrigerator and remove it from its plastic wrap. Then, take the Cheese Garage and turn the crank about 10 times to open the box. Place the cheese on the spiked, movable “floor” of the garage. Turn the crank some more, until the appropriate amount of cheese is exposed (about 10-20 turns). Take the… oops, the cutting device is trapped under the cheese. Turn the crank the other way 10-20 times to retract the cheese into garage, and then lift the cutting device, which looks like a tiny guillotine. Holding the guillotine up with one hand, turn the crank until the appropriate amount of cheese is exposed. Push the guillotine down, safely cutting you a piece of cheese.

The Cheese Garage can be seen as a micro-example of a larger trend in society. By compartmentalizing the Cheese Cutting function into a single, specialized, logically constructed device, we make our lives better, more efficient, and most of all, safer.