We’re all quite aware of the “technological advances” that are happening all around us. But when you ask anyone to name some “technological advances,” you’ll hear about the latest and greatest Apple or Samsung or BMW or NASA. And it’s true, all of these examples (and thousands more just like them) demonstrate how the stunning advances in high tech. Your new watch has more computing power than an Apollo spacecraft, your phone does more than the entire Radio Shack catalog of a decade ago.
That’s not what I want you to think about today.
In spending two weeks on the road in April, it struck me at some point that very quietly, without much fanfare at all, there are aspects of our lives that are decidedly low tech that are still making progress all the time to make our lives better. These advances might not ever get a press conference at their introduction and you might not ever even notice their existence at all — but they’re there.
For example, the shower curtain.
Think back even fifteen or ten years. A shower curtain was a plastic sheet, yellow or white, possibly with floral prints or some such decoration, hung on a straight pole (metal or wood) above the edge of the bathtub. It was generally semi-opaque, or at best translucent — every serial killer in the world was on one side when our femme fatale was showering and she was always clueless. It just dangled there, hanging by wire hooks that were like giant safety pins, except they were made of wire thicker than hangers and you could lose a finger if you weren’t careful. You had to buy a new shower curtain every couple of years because even if you were religious about cleaning the things to keep them free of mildew and fungus, the cheap plastic would age, get brittle, and crack. They would stick to you as you moved around in your narrow shower, pulling back and moving to allow water to spray all over the bathroom if you weren’t constantly vigilant.
The basic shower curtain came straight out of the introduction of indoor plumbing in the early 20th Century and didn’t change much at all for a hundred years.
A few years back, hotels started using the curved rod. It gives you more room in the shower without taking it away from anyone else using the bathroom.
Those nasty metal hooks are gone, replaced by these clever nylon rings with slits between them. Not only does it make it trivial and fast to snap a curtain onto or off of the bar, the nylon also slides much easier than the metal hooks would, particularly after the hooks started to rust and get nasty.
The shower curtain isn’t all one part, and they’re not made of that cheap, brittle plastic any more. Most appear to be made of some sort of synthetic cloth instead of a sheet of plastic. They have a top and a bottom part, snapping together quickly and easily. If a curtain gets dirty or torn, it’s almost always going to be the bottom part, which can simply be unsnapped, replaced, and thrown into the laundry for cleaning.
Many hotels now have top halves that are a transparent mesh — no serial murderers sneaking up on us any more!
In the bottom corners, many modern shower curtains have magnets sewn in. Not only are they heavy enough to keep the shower hanging down rather than crimping up and sneaking out of the tub (where they become useless or worse), they also will grip onto the metal tub and keep the curtain where you want it.
Five simple, obvious, low tech improvements to a completely forgettable household item — yet look how much easier it is to clean, how much more functional it is than it was before. No press conferences, no fanfare, just doing its job better and easier and faster.
In addition, if you don’t want hotel off-white, yellow, or white, there are all kinds of options for color and patterns. Places like Think Geek even have shower curtains designed for high tech geeks and space cadets!
Of course, all of that low-level high tech won’t do any good if there’s a basic user error. For example, the magnets shown in my Holiday Inn room were only useful as weights, not magnets. The tub was fiberglass with no metal beneath to allow the magnet to stick. Maybe it was those useless magnets dangling all over the hotel that interfered with the Wi-fi and screwed it up so badly.
What other low tech improvements have been made to fundamental and functional items in our homes, schools, and offices? What other advances and improvements are we looking at but not seeing simply because they’re part of the background of life?
Finally, what simple but fundamental improvements are still there waiting to be discovered, waiting for that “A-ha!” moment by someone who might make a significant pile of cash by seeing something that’s hidden in plain sight?
2 responses to “Low Tech Advances”
In one of my old apartments I used magnets sandwiched as weights to stop the shower curtain blowing in. It did the trick! It was a tiny free standing shower. Without those magnetics it was a nightmare. No room to turn around with the curtain blowing in. Now I have the luxury of a doored free standing shower. But that comes with it’s own problems. Leaky door!
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You were ahead of your time with the magnets! As with so many things, the “new & improved” brings its own new & improved problems.