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Gadgets can add up, in more ways than one

June 26, 2009|By ALICIA NOTARIANNI

What would George Washington think?

It's not a sophisticated thought, but it is one that I mulled over with some regularity as a child.

When I would consider technological developments, the thought would pop into my young mind. It still does from time to time, in similar situations.

Would a wise person from years gone by see our society's advancements as impressive and valuable? Or would they be viewed as frivolous, riddled with pretense, and pandering to our laughable self-importance?

The George Washington litmus test came to mind while I browsed an airline catalog during a recent flight. A cursory flip through the pages unearthed a digital camera swim mask, the million germ-eliminating travel toothbrush sanitizer, foot alignment socks and -- perhaps my personal favorite -- a solar-powered mole repeller. Mole, as in the burrowing creature, not the beauty mark.

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Apparently the people who invented these implements thought they would improve life in some way. The idea behind gadgets is generally to make things easier or better.

I'm all for catching a break. My heart skips a beat for a tool that offers convenience or efficiency. Fabric softening would not happen in my house if not for my Downy Ball. I can barely recall how I managed the bathroom blunders of toilet-training toddlers before the dawn of Lysol Sanitizing Wipes.

Still, I approach newfangled implements with considerable discrimination. Even my most cherished purchases take up space, get dirty, malfunction or eventually need to be replaced. Many times, stuff that is meant to simplify life only complicates it.

Most of the "luxury products" I spied in the airline catalog struck me as complication. The handful of seemingly worthwhile ones could be reasonably duplicated for little or no cost.

Take the chair protectors offered at $11.95 each. These clear plastic mats are to be set atop dining chair cushions to "Make dining with children enjoyable and stress-free." To my mind, if you don't want to get food on your living room chair cushions, then bring the children to the table. But if you want to eat in the living room, you don't need to spend extra money to do so. Odds are you already have a couple old tablecloths around the house, either the plain plastic picnic style or the flannel-backed variety. Cut one into four or six square pieces, and voila! Your own handy dandy "chair protectors." Save yourself $70.

Another dubious luxury I spotted in the catalog was the Keep Your Distance bug vacuum. Its description claims the vacuum can catch bugs from up to 2 feet away. "Insects are suctioned by a 22,400-rpm motor," the text boasts. Bugs travel through an extendable wand through a Dustbuster-like contraption and into an electric grid where they are killed. The price? Fifty bucks, which includes a plug-in charging stand.

A handy yet inconspicuous place to store the bug vacuum and stand? Got me! Furthermore, I am not convinced I want to look like a character from a "Star Wars" film doing battle with a lightsaber every time I try to do away with a fly. Not to mention that it is a motorized machine, which, in my book, is an invitation to eventual malfunction and frustration. Plus, I would still need to dispose of bug carcasses.

I'm not so sure George Washington would be impressed.

I know of a $1 answer to this predicament. Fly swatter, anyone?

Alicia Notarianni is a reporter and feature writer for The Herald-Mail. Her e-mail address is alnotarianni@aol.com.

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