Tuesday, 19 October 2010


Classic or Touch? You're probably an iPhone: everything in one slim unit. Very nice. Very now. But, oooops, it's over. Looks like we're moving on.

Technology as fashion? Who came up with that? Actually, its always been the case. Remember those TVs made to look like spaceman helmets? Remember the sandwich toaster? OK you can still get them, but there was a time when they were a covetable fad. It didn't last long, just a year or so, then they turned into greasy dusty objet de rubbish in the corner of the cupboard. As so many things do. But the idea of technology as fashion goes waaaay back.

In the 1840-50s, the well to do had cash like they'd never had cash before. At the Great Exhibition in London in 1851, there was a sort of ultimate expression of this. The Great Exhibition was intended as a scientific showcase, and in many respects it was. But really it was a great big shopping mall. A tribute to Britain's ability to sell stuff to people with money.

My favourite consumable from the GE has to be the folding piano. Piano makers had been going at each other for a while, upgrading the keys, coming up with increasingly elaborate engraving, pedals, sound. But then someone thought, let's make a piano you can fold up. There was this idea that you'd buy it for your yacht. It seems to have worked like a sort of concertina.... you pushed it against a wall and it collapsed/squeezed down. It was very expensive but it meant you could invite someone into your home and then, at some point in the evening, say, hey let's play the piano and they'd look round and say, but you don't have a piano and you'd go, yes I do, and you'd open a door or remove a curtain or whatever and you'd heave out....

To the Victorians the folding piano was just as exciting as having an app on your phone that allows you to read a barcode or map the night sky. Things that one day will sound equally ridiculous.

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