Is necessity really the mother of invention?


by Ashley Morrison.

I wouldn't say I'm a gadget freak by any stretch of the imagination, but I do like some techie stuff that usefully enhances my life while being fun to play with. I spent an inordinate amount of time choosing my latest mobile - a Sony Xperia T, since you ask, in spite of my not being wild about Skyfall (in which the phone features briefly) as you may have read from the blog I posted about it a couple of weeks ago. But while there's absolutely nothing wrong with invention for invention's sake - in fact, experimentation is vital if progress is to be made - it seems to me that there are an awful lot of inventions out there which came into being more because the inventor wanted to mess around and satisfy their own whims rather than because there was any future or long-term use for them.

Last week, I watched the first in the series of Stephen Fry: Gadget Man. In case you missed it, the ubiquitous Mr Fry tried out some allegedly life-enhancing gadgets with celebrity friend Jonathan Ross. Cue lots of guffawing, witty repartee and a middle-aged man trying to dress a little too trendily.

This first episode was all about gadgets which could save us from all the aggro we encounter on a daily basis with our slow commute to work through the metropolis. I need to be careful that this doesn't turn into a TV programme review, but the hairs on the back of my neck did stand up much like the feathers on a cockatoo preparing for a pecking face-off when Mr Fry started by lamenting the hours we lose while rubbing shoulders with the great unwashed. Yes, it must be such a downer for him to struggle through the city to his 9-hour-day-for-30k job, mustn't it?! 

Anyway, that little detail aside, I only counted one gadget which was any use whatsoever - if you were prepared to stump up the 400-odd quid for it...and you don't mind looking a bit like a baby bird. But if you ARE prepared to give away that amount of dosh for an inflatable cycle helmet (above), chances are you wouldn't need to cycle to work in the first place. Similarly, if you were going to cycle to work, then you probably wouldn't fork out £1,350 for the rather aptly named Yike Bike below (missing the S on Yike, for some reason), which looked about as safe as a pair of metal-soled electricity pylon climbing shoes. For that price, give me a secondhand Piaggio Vespa any day.

Yes, you might still get wet on a scooter (although you'd probably have some waterproofs for those occasions anyway) but you'd be unlikely to wear waterproofs in a car, so therefore you'd get possibly even more wet in the silly little Renault Twizy - the electric car without any windows. Huh? And you're STILL stuck in traffic too? So where's the commute-enhancing plus side, for your £6,690? And - forgive me - don't electric cars (with windows) already exist?

Amphibious taxis? Hm, that was a bit too Top Gear (craaaazy middle-aged boys with toys) for my liking. And anyway, it's hardly a gadget, is it? Plus it already exists, for a start. Have they never heard of London's Duck Tour? Been around for a while.

Granted, I get annoyed by other commuters' tinny music tss-tss-tss-ing through ill-fitting headphones. But I don't think the answer is a pair of Epson Moverio multimedia glasses which would make even the coolest of the cool look like Joe 90 on holiday. Most people I know have a smartphone these days anyway; infinitely more portable and practical, and all perfectly capable of playing TV shows, films, music and high-definition games. Plus with 4G well on its way and the London Underground now providing wifi, why spend £519 for something giving more or less the same experience, but making you look a bit of a tool in the process? Or, dare I suggest, why not invest in a pair of earplugs and a good book if you can bear a nano-second's break from your phone and you can't face reading the crumpled Metro or the Evening Standard which your fellow commuter has left on the seat next to you?

At least on Dragons' Den - which we all know everyone watches for the put-downs more than the successes - the five dragons tell the wannabe inventors that their ideas are a load of old tosh. Don't get them or me started on the motorised roller skates for £430 or the electric trikes for £1,600. And for that reason, I'm out.

In short, I'd describe Stephen Fry: Gadget Man as the equivalent of Channel 5's Gadget Show with knobs on. I'll leave it to you to interpret the latter part of that comparison as you see fit.

Ashley Morrison is a blogger, copywriter and editor.
Twitter: @Ashley_Morrison


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