Thus Spake Zuska

The Gadgetification of Everything

The other day I needed to pick up a few items at the grocery store, and run a few errands. So I made a list, because I cannot keep more than two or three things in my head with any degree of accuracy. I used time-tested technology to achieve this purpose: paper and pen.

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But apparently this is no longer sufficient. Oh no. You need a SmartShopper Grocery List Organizer!


The SmartShopper is small electronic device for you to speak your grocery list and errands into, because after all, who can be bothered with the time-consuming chore of writing down something like “eggs” or “toothpaste” or “go to Post Office”? Now, instead of using random pieces of scrap paper for your grocery list, you can have it printed out on brand new thermal paper! Who needs trees anyway?!

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More importantly, your SmartShopper is a gadget. It’s important to have as many gadgets as possible, so that mundane tasks like making grocery lists and grocery shopping can feel hip and high tech. Rachael Ray says it will make grocery shopping a cinch! Also, this gives you something else to consume, thus keeping the wheels of the economy turning.

Never mind you don’t need it, never mind it’s completely superfluous, never mind it’s a total waste of resources. “Barbara” says

“Smart Shopper is one of the best things I’ve ever invested in. It makes shopping so much easier. Everything is itemized so that you don’t have to back and forth in the store. Dairy products are together, produce is together etc. Just a great product. Thank you so much..”

Well, I suppose at this point it probably is a better investment than your 401(k). But still. Is it really that hard to figure out that when you are in the produce section of the store, you should probably get all the produce items on your list?

The latest issue of Seed confidently proclaims on the cover “Science Can Fix This”; it includes articles about sustainability and water shortages, among other things. But can science fix stupid fascination with gadgetry and unthinking consumption? As long as people are making – and buying – completely useless electronic shit like the SmartShopper, we are in serious trouble.

Last year the Philadelphia Inquirer launched a new weekly column on living green; it has a whole new section on its website devoted to green issues. Yet every week in the Home & Design section of the paper, the “LifeSytle” feature offers up five or six items you don’t really need, urging you to consume them. Last week, the SmartShopper was one of them. Switch out your lightbulbs to compact fluorescents, and then get yourself a SmartShopper! It’s the American way.

Comments

  1. #1 Greg Laden
    January 27, 2009

    Does it spit out coupons! No? Bah! I’ll stick with wandering up and down the aisle until I think I’ve gotten everything.

    Which reminds me …. don’t forget the milk tonight. Or I’m screwed for coffee in the morning.

  2. #2 arvind
    January 27, 2009

    This is one place where otherwise sane bloggers of science who should know better about consumerism and the environment could also go ga-ga over the next shiny gadget. I never know where the line is sometimes. Are you being on the ball with technological change? Or are you just being another dumb consumer? Tough call, but I prefer to err on the side of not picking up the new techno-gizmo, but waiting and watching the others. If it picks up and generates a new kind of use among a large group, I follow suit. So I’m in the middle path.

  3. #3 Becca
    January 27, 2009

    They need to hook that up with peapod so you fill out your list and a delivery time and it just appears at your door. Now that would be a useful gadget.

  4. #4 Jay
    January 27, 2009

    My mother bought this for us. We have a pad on the fridge. Works well. She thinks it’s – odd? amusing? too anal? – and figured that instead of a pad of paper, we needed an electronic gadget! And she was so insistent about it that I had to admit, finally, that we weren’t going to use it. My mother-in-law, OTOH, gave us an electric jar opener. Yes, JAR opener – it unscrews lids. Thank God she hasn’t ever inquired about what happened to it. I should mention that her son, my husband, has been known to swing a 10-pound sledgehammer for a living, so opening jars has never really been a problem for us.

  5. #5 george.w
    January 27, 2009

    Oh crap, I’m behind the times; I just carry a few index cards in my shirt pocket. Well, not exactly index cards, but library card file cards, because I noticed a huge box of them in the library dumpster a few years ago, and they’re blank on one side. They’re made of very nice acid-free cardstock, so they’re easy to write on.

    It was a really big box. At the rate I am using them, I should run out in ten years or so.

    My sister gave me an electric vegetable steamer. A few years later, I gave it back to her, still in its box. It had a lot more parts to clean than a pot, which has the pot itself, and the lid.

    The one electronic thing I carry around with me everywhere is a small digital camera. But I use the hell out of that thing.

  6. #6 Accidental Pharmacist
    January 27, 2009

    Ha – this is hilarious. But I thought Kindle was hilarious and it ended up being a big seller this past year. Personally, I use the notepad option on my iPhone and it’s worked out well for me.

  7. #7 DrugMonkey
    January 27, 2009

    I use the “Honey, text me if you think of anything else we need” technique.

  8. #8 Zuska
    January 27, 2009

    Jay, the SmartShopper I see absolutely no use for…but the jar opener might be a different story. A few years ago my brother and sister-in-law got one for my mother, when she could no longer open jars even using those rubber handgrip things, because of her arthritis. It was great for her. If you are an elderly person living alone the jar opener might be a useful thing. Otherwise, it’s a superfluous gadget.

  9. #9 Maria
    January 27, 2009

    I can sort of see how someone with motor control issues in their arms/hands might benefit from voice recognition shopping-list-makers… but you’d think that at that point, it’s time to invest in something serious and general-purpose for transcribing your voice notes, not a one-use gadget.

  10. #10 Stephanie Z
    January 28, 2009

    I have no problem with a gadget that keeps my shopping list(s), as long as it’s also the GPS, mobile browser, and cell phone. But no way are you going to see me using a gadget just for that–or printing out the list.

  11. #11 MissPrism
    January 28, 2009

    Voice recognition? Craptastic. If it lived in the lid of my dustbin, scanned barcodes, and then automatically added the items to my Ocado delivery list… well, I might juuuust think it had a purpose.

    As an aside, voice recognition is hilarious if you don’t have the voice the gadget’s expecting. I always had to put on a ridiculous fake-Southern twang when using my US bank’s automated phoneline, because it couldn’t understand a British accent.
    It: “Please speak your number.”
    Me: “FAAAAVE! SEEEYVEEEN! NAAAAAANE! TWAOOOO!”

  12. #12 Felicity
    January 28, 2009

    My sister-in-law and I have been known to rewrite our lists in order of store geography. I only do it when I have an incredibly long list, but I think she always does it. Thus, we have magically managed to perform the ‘itemization’ task the gadget does — but better, since we know our store — without using more than the aforementioned paper and pen. What a waste of plastic, batteries, and space, as well as paper.

    My tech-tastic partner has played with some website that lists grocery items, geographically groups your list, and e-mails it to your phone (or, in our case, MY phone). I think it can add recurring items at specified intervals, too. That at least has the advantage of saving paper. But it still looked like way more time investment and less convenience than the magnetic pad on the fridge and the Bic from the pen-mug, and even Mr. Engineer gave up on it.

  13. #13 Sandra Porter
    January 28, 2009

    Believe it or not, I find my iPhone incredibly handy for grocery shopping and other shopping. I can text my kids and find out what kinds of yogurt they like or ask them to go check and see if we have bread. I also use the camera and take pictures of clothing items and send them to the kids to look at via the iPhone. It saves lots of time with returning things.

  14. #14 Laura
    January 29, 2009

    I use Felicity’s method for list itemization. When I’m writing the list, I divide the paper into four quadrants — dry goods, cold things, produce, and “other” (shampoo, etc). This is helpful while tag-team shopping with my SO — I can send him off to get all the produce while I pick out the kinds of cereal and pasta that we need.

  15. #15 Zuska
    January 29, 2009

    Wow, some of you are so organized! Mr. Z and I just scrawl down whatever we need as it comes to mind or as we use the last of whatever, so our list evolves organically in no sort of order. At the store, in whatever section I am in, I scan the list for items that might be in that section. It’s not particularly efficient, I’m sure.

  16. #16 Chris Clarke
    January 29, 2009

    This particular gadget sounds not particularly helpful for the economic and environmental cost it incurs.

    However, in much the same way that the jar opener actually serves to help people with a disability get something done, something similar to the shopping list gadget could be very helpful to people like me who have attention deficit issues. Like Sandra Porter, I have found ways to use the iPhone to assist in similar tasks.

    As an example, that “sorting by aisle” function could conceivably be a huge help to someone with my form of ADD. While most folks could scan a list like

    Eggs
    toilet paper
    cabbage
    bacon
    avocados
    pretzels
    oranges
    apples
    benadryl

    and reliably come out of the produce section with cabbage, avocados, oranges and apples, I’m just as likely to come away with the cabbage, oranges and apples, not even *seeing* the avocados on the list until I’m looking at it again, in the paper products aisle.

    Now that’s no big deal for me: I’m used to going back and getting things, am rarely in that much of a hurry and I have no trouble walking. Someone for whom going back to the produce aisle a second time is a significant hardship, and they do exist, could really benefit from a tool that would sort the list without having to be reminded to do so.

    If there’s a “repeating item” function, like say toilet paper and cat litter every two weeks, that’s also a potential assistive function for ADDistas.

    If you can walk, in other words, a wheelchair might be a useless gadget. But if you need one, it’s not.

    I’m not saying this particular gadget is such a tool, but I think there’s an argument to be made against the “why not just use a pencil and paper?” rebuttal.

  17. #17 Barbara
    February 3, 2009

    First, I am NOT the Barbara quoted by Zuska. This new gadget might have merit for the blind, the paralyzed, the otherwise unable to write with pen/pencil. The list it prints could then be provided to the caretaker/shopper to ease the shopping task. Other than that use…WTF?

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