Saturday, April 13, 2013

Innovation: backwards evolution?

Richard Glover

Why, in various eateries, do they now insist on serving food on a wooden board? They don't seem to understand: the plate was invented for a reason. It's ceramic, therefore easy to clean, and has a lip around the edge, which stops things rolling off.

The wooden serving platter, strangely enough, appears to be chosen whenever they are serving food that has a tendency to roll. Sausages, gherkins, anything involving whole pickled onions: these are the ingredients that will cause mine host to sing out for a wooden board. Either he wants to set his waiters a challenge, or he's a part-owner of the dry cleaners next door.

It's a classic example of backwards evolution, the signs of which are all around us.

I've mentioned before the TV set, which is now so complex it's pretty much impossible to watch. Many surveys have pointed to the decline in viewing for free-to-air TV. Can I be the first to point out the obvious? It's because none of us can turn the damn thing on.

During the late afternoon, various young people pull all the plugs out of the back of the set, insert memory sticks of uncertain provenance, Wii consoles and joysticks, leaving a Gordian knot of cables on the floor. Stumbling towards the set at 10pm intending to watch Lateline, you need a torch, a manual and 2½ hours of trial and error.

The old TV was fine. You turned it on, clicked the dial either to position 10 (Number 96) or position 2 (the news) and after three seconds of warming up, either Abigail or James Dibble would hove into view.

The top of the set was also flat, allowing for the display of home ornaments. This in turn led to the classic dad joke:

Child: What's on the TV dad?

Dad: A pot plant and the TV guide. Are you blind?

This joke is now impossible to make. And so a perfectly good dad joke dies just to allow a bit of high-pixel action, which, if truth be told, just brings out everyone's blemishes. Why am I surprised?

With every innovation things get worse. Toothbrushes, now equipped with fat, non-slip handles, no longer fit into the holders built into every bathroom. This is, presumably, to reduce the number of toothbrush-slippage injuries plaguing hospitals. Instead, we contract cholera from leaving fat-bottomed toothbrushes out on the benchtop, marinating in a chain of toothpasty puddles.

Bucket seats have long replaced the bench seat in the front of cars, banishing the romance previously an essential part of motoring. Almost simultaneously, the Western world entered a period of long-term population decline, yet no one thinks to note the causal link.

Meanwhile, cameras with film in them have been replaced by mobile phones. Instead of taking a handful of meaningful pictures to be placed in an album to treasure, people take 6.7 million photos, mostly of their lunch, all of which will be lost in the great computer meltdown of 2017.

Admittedly, mobile phones have an upside. They have allowed a generation of young people to contact each other and plan mischief to get up to that very evening. The same device, alas, has also allowed their parents to ring them at random through the evening, preventing the aforementioned mischief. So again: evolution, backwards.

Underwear used to be comfortable, with both genders slipping on something large, usually made of white cotton and slightly grey from the wash. This wasn't very alluring, yet once you were both down to your knickers, plans were rarely derailed by mere undergarment aesthetics. Missing was that tight nylon trussing that is such a contributor to the fractious mood of our time. Comfortably gusseted, one was free to contemplate with equanimity those periods in which one found oneself untroubled by romance.

Further evidence of backwards evolution comes courtesy of the supermarket. They have removed the fish from behind the fish counter, instead placing it in tubs of ice out on the floor where people can breathe all over it. This is meant to promote the sensation you are in some sort of Naples street market, rather than trudging around Coles Birkenhead Point in the 20 minutes between your son's soccer game and your daughter's netball.

Here's the new method: point to the fish you want and the assistant comes from behind the counter, squats down wearily beside the metal bucket, lifts the fish into a bag while dripping water over the floor, then returns behind the counter to weigh the thing. Ah, progress.

Meanwhile, they've taken the green beans and the broccoli and put them on large platters in a process that can be described only as mysterious. If only they could also take all the tomatoes and serve them on wooden platters so they would tumble free and cover the whole floor in a sea of red. By running our trolleys through the resulting melee, we could create our own alfresco pasta sauce.

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