19 April, 2014


I thought I’d try  my hand at writing a Malcolm Gladwell column. Just because he’s getting a lot of shit from people. And I rather liked his “Outliers” book.

Here we go:

Apple did some great design work, but there’s one thing that really bugs me about my Mac. Mainly, the USB slot that goes into the left, instead of the right, of the computer. Now I am right-handed, so I use the mouse from the right. At first, there’s no need for the mouse because there’s a trackpad and a mouse built into the center of the MacBook Pro. But unfortunately these things have a way of breaking down, after which you need to attach an external mouse. Which, of course, goes to the right side. But there is no USB port on the right side. Which means you have this long snaking cord attached to a clunky USB port, going from the left to the right. 

Just a minor detail, you may say. But these things matter. Panasonic lost me after it sold me a camera with 20 cords and a DVD burner that needed a PC. Its not like the camera didn't work. It did. But those 20 unused cords (with all sorts of different plugs) and the unused DVD burner bugged me. it’s the sense of loss from unused potential. Enough to make me think: next time I’ll buy something else.

Its like the woman’s shoe design. Whoever thought up the “pinched at the front” woman’s shoe deserves to be shot. Seriously. “Pinched at the front” shoes have tortured generations of women. I’m surprised the ever vocal feminist movement of America hasn’t taken this up. Seriously, people, wake up. It’s the 21 century and women walk and spend their entire working day standing in their shoes. “Pinched at the top” may have worked for 19th century China but it sure doesn't work today. If you LOOK at the feet, you will see that the natural shape of the feet tapers at the back, towards the ankle—not where there are five toes played out and begging for space. But almost all women’s shoes are designed the wrong way around—they are tapered at the front and wide in the back. Now when children put on shoes the other way around, we laugh. But when shoe designers do the same, we give them the greatest of respect. Now why is that?  Perhaps because feminine beauty and delicacy became defined at some long forgotten past in mincing steps and lack of mobility. And the shoe designers of today, of course, have kept that tradition of feminine restriction alive and well by glamorizing even more impossibly torturous shoes. The prime culprit is probably Jimmy Choos.

In much the same way as the “pinched shoe” continues unconsciously as the default shoe for women, asphalt continues to be the default material to lay down on ever increasing tracks of roads all over the world. Asphalt, if you think about it, is the worst material to cover miles and miles of verdant green land. As soon as a road is tarred, the temperature of that neighborhood goes up a few degrees in centigrade. Do that to the entire city and you have a very hot city. Not to mention that most trees that lived by the side of the roads are carelessly cut down to lay down this monster material on the ground. But do we have an alternative? Not really. The discourse of development is like the discourse of beauty that promotes the pinched shoe—there’s no other way to think about asphalt but as the absolutely necessary accouterments in a developed country’s march to progress. And so we keep getting loans from the World Bank to lay even more ever increasing lengths of roads with black tar.

Black tar absorbs heat like there’s no tomorrow. So the new design, when it arrives, has to include another color. White will not work because it reflects light and could disorient drivers. A white plastic highway would obviously be something the Chinese could lay down in about a nanosecond, but probably its something to be thought about with greater thought. I vote for brick-it’s a known material, people have used and loved it for centuries, and when I walk on the brick-tiled lanes of Kathmandu (almost extinct by now, but one or two still remain) I can feel the temperature plummeting down to human levels. Frogs and crickets may even survive in these brick lanes. Brick highways, with bricks made out of solar heaters? Why not? Alternately, perhaps some of the hot shot Asian designers could design a highway out of bamboo. Bamboo’s very versatile, it doesn't absorb much heat, it grows fast and covers huge areas each year, and it is possible to prepare it in a way that doesn't make cars slip and slide. I think that would be entirely cool, in all senses of the term.

Let me know when the Mac team shifts one USB port from left to right. I think that’s essential to the survival of Mac. The man who makes the first sexy woman’s shoe that’s wide at the front and tapered at the bottom is going to be a trillionaire. And the person who designs the first bamboo highway will save the world.

Did you like my Malcolm Gladwell column? Please send all comments to sansarmagazine@gmail.com

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