FUTURE SHOCK

Alvin Toffler wasn’t kidding when he wrote his book about the galloping pace of technology and what it does to our fragile psyches. We have had to adjust to staggering changes in our brief lifetimes. Those people who know how to put world change on the face of a clock would say that what has occurred in our lives in “one minute” would be like “two days” for the pre 20th century populations. Something like that.

This was brought into crystal clear focus for me when I was forced to say goodbye to my thirty eight year old Maytag dryer recently. Here is what it did: clothes were inserted into a cavity. The user closed the door to the cavity, and pushed a button on the top of the machine. Whirring started, the clothes got tossed around, and they got dry.

My new machine arrived and was installed. I went down into the laundry room, and I was instantly confused. There was a dashboard on my new machine. Instead of one lone “start” button, there was a digital array of flashing lights and a touch screen. There is now dryer terminology. If I am in a carefree mood, I can choose “casual dry” for my garments. I haven’t tried this, but I am wondering what the manufacturers have in mind for “casually dried” clothing. There is, of course, an energy saving array of choices, from “unheated tumbling” to “damp dry” to “put your clothes in and the machine won’t do anything at all, but your electric bill will be very small.”

The new dryer has a “sterilizing” feature. That, of course, is on the opposite side of the dial from the energy saving features. Apparently, because our world is full of insidious flus and deadly bacteria, we need to have the security of being able to blast those demons off our clothing. If you don’t need to go quite that far, you can “steam” your clothes. I think steamed clothes have fewer wrinkles. Or calories. I am not sure.

My new dryer came with an instruction manual. In four languages. My old Maytag didn’t have such a thing. The man showed me the button, and said “push it to turn the dryer on. It will stop when the clothes are dry.” This manual tells me things like how to use fabric softening accessories, which settings to use for lingerie and “delicates,” how to use the machine to dry clean stuff at home, how to remove odors from stinky things, and what to do if the machine’s digital screen goes blank. It also seems to imply all sorts of things about the American lifestyle. For instance, about those stinky things. I resent the fact that the dryer manufacturers think that we are a stinky populace. And as for “casual” drying: I am looking in vain for the “formal” drying setting. You know, for when I am having a black tie HBO night.

I still have my old Maytag washer. I am going to be very sad when I have to say goodbye to that and learn how to do “casual” washing.

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