The evolution of technology has long been about saving time, but on grosser scales than now. Certainly the cotton gin, the automobile, and the vacuum cleaner let people work, move, and clean faster-savings to be measured in hours and minutes. Now we're saving fractional seconds: a millisecond here, a millisecond there-does it really add up? The consumer-product laboratories think so. They are slicing time ever more finely for us. Other kinds of inventors may be making more profound use of their windows onto the millisecond world. Air bags, as a life-saving feature of automobiles, were conceived and designed only when it became possible to visualize complex mechanical sagas happening-beginning, middle, and end-in one-tenth of a second. Why not use some of that new knowledge of time's microcosm to help out in daily life? Toasters are toasting faster-pushing the limits set by the thermal conductivity of bread, if you want the center warm before the surface blackens. It could take two or three minutes for an under-the-tongue thermometer to rise to your temperature; new thermometers are electronic and, naturally, faster. By comparison, the time-saving promised by J. F. Lazartigue's sÚchage rapide shampoo seems gross and vague: its polymers with perfluorides purport to hasten drying by 30 percent. The household-products designers at companies like Black & Decker, developers of the Dustbuster miniature vacuum cleaner, find time-saving opportunities all through the household day. Owners of a Dustbuster need not waste time walking to the closet, finding an outlet for the power cord, or rewinding the power cord. They may buy extra Dustbusters to be spread strategically around the house.
The Winn L. Rosch Hardware Bible is on line.
Why high-speed visualization is no joke: the federal government's Air Bag Video Page.
- Marshall McLuhan's Understanding Media remains an indispensible classic, all the more interesting now because of the ways in which it seems dated.