Technology can do amazing things, but it can do really stupid things too: for every iPhone or smartwatch there’s a baby poop alarm or something unexpected for your baggage area.
In some cases it’s not even the tech that’s bad, but the marketing: products that make total sense for people with mobility issues find themselves rebranded as camera accessories for the kind of people who shouldn’t be allowed anywhere near cameras.
The following pieces of tech make us cringe, and we’re really, really sorry about number 17.
1. MacBook Selfie Sticks
We have a love-hate relationship with selfie sticks, in that we love to hate the people who use them. While we can see the benefit in some very specific circumstances, such as when you want to get a group shot on holiday without a stranger running off with your smartphone, once you get beyond a certain size we start judging you harshly.
But harshly doesn’t even begin to describe how we feel about this modern monstrosity, the MacBook Selfie Stick. It does exactly what you think it does: it enables people to wave ridiculously expensive laptops with crap cameras in the air like enormous neon signs saying “I am rich and a great target for mugging!” The good news: right now it only exists as a satirical art project.
2. Smart condoms
We thought these were an April fool, especially given the name: i.Con. But no! British Condoms will apparently take nearly sixty of your British pounds for what it calls a Smart Condom. It’s a sensor-equipped ring that slips over the base of your condom so you can – and we can’t believe we’re writing this – record the number and frequency of your thrusts and the duration and frequency of your sessions. “Have you ever wondered how many calories you’re burning during intercourse?” It asks, to which our answer is a firm “no” followed by “what on Earth is wrong with you?”
3. Smart forks
Wouldn’t it be great if technology could help you eat less? Perhaps you could have a smart speaker that plays the screams of the damned at full volume whenever you open the fridge door, or a little robot man who punches you in the face if you go for an extra slice of pizza. Or you could drop sixty bucks on an electronic space fork so you can’t afford to eat anything this week. That may be the thinking behind the Hapi Fork, which monitors how fast you’re eating and stabs you in the eyes if you’re going too quickly. We made the stabbing bit up.
4. Baby poop alarms
This one’s a great example of something that’s potentially useful to people with sensory issues but that’s marketed to all parents as a brilliant, life-changing gadget. There are many incarnations of this particular one, but they all work in the same way: “technology” can detect urine or faeces, raising the alarm by playing a sound and flashing an LED. We know it’s an easy gag to just reprint badly translated product blurb, but that’s what we like about it: it’s easy. “It is the pee or poop alarm goods for baby or old people who is in body-inconvenience.-it can let guardian know baby’s situation when pooping and peeing using sensor made in Germany.”
5. Smart salt dispensers
Dispensing the right amount of salt is easy if, like your correspondent, you’re Scottish: if you can still see your food, you haven’t put enough salt on it. But while we appreciate that other people might not like their food quite so salty, we’re not convinced that smart salt shakers are the best use of our planet’s limited resources. Colour us cynical, then, about SMALT: it is “more than just a centerpiece and more than just a smart salt dispenser.” Apparently, “SMALT is a conversation starter and a great way to entertain guests.” Wait till you see their faces when you dispense salt by shaking your smartphone or, better still, “simply turning the dial manually”! What joy it is to live in such times!
6. Bluetooth hairbrushes
The Kérastase Hair Coach no longer seems to be available, despite its obvious brilliance: it’s a hairbrush that uses Bluetooth to communicate with an app because life is short and that’s a brilliant way of using your limited time on Earth. Allure magazine didn’t see it that way, though: it was “a game-changing gadget”, a “mic-drop moment” for the beauty industry offering “a whole different kind of technological disruption.” It has a microphone to listen to your hair! It has sensors to tell whether your hair is wet! The handle has “fancy tools” and vibrates! It, er, doesn’t work very well on curly or coarse hair!
7. Algorithmic clothes
Maybe you saw a poorly inserted Thom Yorke flogging Radiohead T-shirts with pictures of trolls on them, or a hoodie with the immortal phrase “Never underestimate a mother who listens to Iron Maiden and was born in August”. Facebook ads and online shops are full of these bizarre items, bot-generated T-shirt and hoodie designs that manage to be strangely fascinating in a “if you buy me one of these as a present I’ll never speak to you again” way.
8. The Hushme Voice Mask
If you’ve ever thought, “wouldn’t it be great if everybody in the office looked like that scary Bane guy from the Batman movies?”, have we got the product for you: “the world’s first voice mask for smartphones”, which is designed to keep the outside world out of your conversation while making you look like a cross between a Star Wars Stormtrooper and Hannibal Lecter. To their credit the developers are well aware of how it looks, quoting Einstein’s comment that “for an idea that does not first seem insane, there is no hope”.
9. Smart toilets
It was just a matter of time: after Japanese multi-function toilets got Bluetooth functionality (which was quickly abused, with hilarious consequences for everyone but the occupants) it was inevitable that toilets would become part of the smart home, er, movement. Kohler’s Numi has “an intuitive touch-screen remote”, Bluetooth streaming for music and podcasts and ambient coloured lighting. Yours for just $8,000.