Monday, June 15, 2009

Instant products and new gizmos

This is my column today.

In this age of consumerism, most of the things we need can now be bought from a store. There’s probably a product for anything and everything, both imaginable and unimaginable.

Who would have thought, for example, that cooking something as basic as sinigang could be reduced to a few very uncomplicated steps, thanks to the wonders of pre-packed ready-to-cook concoctions that come in cubes or sachets? Thus, all one has to do today is boil some water, dump in some cubes or pour the contents of a sachet, put in the rest of the ingredients meat, fish or vegetables—into the boiling mass and then presto! sinigang is served.

I used to agree with the advertising yarn that these pre-packed ingredients were the next best things that happened to culinary arts after fire was discovered. I am sure any working drone that has experienced a sudden hankering for sinigang sa sampalok in the middle of the night will agree with me on this. But when they started mass -producing concoctions for basic ginisa (sauté), I decided that the people behind the idea were already pandering to people’s inherent laziness. After all, how difficult is it to sauté garlic, onions and tomatos?

I am told that there is now a whole range of products that include ready mixes for menudo, caldereta, etc. As can be expected, my yaya scoffs at the whole idea; she thinks these new products take away the art from cooking. There’s a large part of me that agrees with her. Cooking after all is not just about the taste of the final product it’s also about the preparation. It’s sad that we seem to be nurturing a whole new generation of Filipinos who have not experienced the multi-sensory pleasure of witnessing leche flan, or arroz valenciana, being made from scratch. Our kids are missing out on a number of social and cultural experiences that help develop a strong sense of who they are as Filipinos.

But there’s also a part of me that, in the now famous words of Senator Ping Lacson, “bows down to the reality” that we live in a world that puts a premium on products that make the complicated simple. I empathize with the multitudes of harassed people housewives, working moms, single parents, even working drones who simply do not have the time nor the energy to slave in the kitchen in order to produce a bowl of pancit canton from scratch and therefore have to rely on ready-to-cook packets that one simply tosses on a skillet.

We live in an age where there seems to be a race to come up with more of these products. The mantra of those who are cashing in on the phenomenon seems to be: “If we can sell it, there will be some sucker out there who will buy it.” The market positioning is simple make people believe that they need the product. Thus, we now have a long list of products of dubious value but are nevertheless being packaged as necessities.

Why, just last week, I discovered a tiny gadget that was being sold at a bookstore called a thumber a device one wears on one’s thumb while reading. No, it did not claim to work wonders on one’s comprehension abilities. It’s a device that comes with plastic “wings” that firmly keep the pages of the book one is reading spread wide open. It’s supposed to offer some form of convenience although for someone like me who loses things, particularly small gadgets, easily, trying to find the darn thing every single time I opened a book would probably pose more inconvenience.

One wonders of course if such a device is really necessary; after all, many generations of bookworms managed to survive without it simply relying on what nature provided as handy tool for doing what the device is supposed to do one’s fingers.

But as if to spite my inherent cynicism, I also found in the same bookstore a new product that did make me wonder: “How come no one thought about that much earlier?” There are now small plastic gadgets called chalk holders that pretty much look like in fact, probably inspired by lipstick holders. The device holds a piece of chalk and one twists the small canister to coax the piece of chalk out or stuff it in. Is the device really necessary? I’m sure teachers out there can continue to survive without it but it sure takes away the aggravation of having to wash constantly to get rid of chalk residue on one’s body and clothes. With the chalk holders, teachers can now also keep chalk in their pockets or bags.

Next to cellular telephones, the most popular gadget today is the flash drive. I came face-to-face with this realization recently when, after I did a lecture for a group of public school teachers and principals, I was mobbed by flash drive-wielding participants for copies of my powerpoint presentation. Again, they weren’t yuppies or college students but grandmothers and aunts all requesting for the chance of being allowed to insert their flash drives into my MacBook. I am told even schoolchildren are now required to own a flash drive or two.

Flash drives used to be nondescript, no-nonsense gadgets; but as can be expected, they have now evolved into something else. I’ve seen flash drives built as part of a Swiss knife, flash drives encased in ballpens, keychains, even lighters and stopwatches. The latest designs I came across were flash drives that also functioned as fashion accessories. I remember a time when a meeting I was attending ground to a halt because everyone watched one of our friends take off her gem-encrusted brooch and use it as a flash drive.

The range of gadgets that all of us are supposed to have is now mind-boggling. As a result, I now carry a small pouch inside my bag containing an assortment of tiny gadgets. There’s a card reader, which reads data from the memory cards of my cell phones and from my digital camera and uploads them directly to my notebook. There’s a multi-port which enables me to double the number of ports of my notebook the Mac I am using only has two ports and that’s often not enough when I have to use a mouse, a flash drive, a card reader, etc. I also have to carry with me all kinds of chargers one for my cell phones, another one for my ipod, and another one for the batteries of the digital camera. Do we really need all these things? It’s ironic that the marketing pitch of these products hues closely along the lines of “you can’t survive without it” which, if we come to think about it, is pretty hilarious because we’ve been able to survive without it for quite some time, thank you very much.

Even our politicians seemed to have jumped into the bandwagon and have started packaging themselves as products complete with their respective taglines and marketing pitches. Their marketing ploy is to remind all of us of just how wretched our lives are, just how unlucky and how unhappy we all are and then propose themselves as the panacea that will make everything go away.

Like the magic cubes and the other gadgets that we’ve learned to embrace and make part of our lives, the truth is that we can do very well without them, actually.

2 comments:

Contents under pressue said...

I just remembered this show my brother and I used to watch, American Inventor.

The premise is simple: Contestants present an invention that they think will revolutionize the way Americans live their daily lives, and the finalists will get a chance to work with experts to help polish up their creations prior to final judging.

The winners were often kiss-ass simple ideas - the losers were usually the "kludges."

Bong C. Austero said...

lol. i remember that show too. thanks for reminding me about it.

bong