Well, not exactly, maybe the headline is a bit dramatic, but these are the areas where we could have done a little better in life…
Science has made great advances and has cracked some of the world’s biggest problems in the past. We have gone to the moon, linked the entire planet in seconds and created devices of all shapes and sizes. Here are some trivial (and not so trivial) issues that still continue to irritate:
1. Cutting Onions: No matter how modernized the kitchen gets and how sharper the knife becomes, the housewife or cook still cries when onions are cut. Many devices were tried out in the early half of the twentieth century. Creating elaborate gas masks, using smoke to nullify the gas… it all proved too cumbersome. The solution was to cut them in water! But the taste went flat, so we went back to square one. (You can also freeze the onions and then cut them. That’s effective but unpopular) Now they’ve stopped trying as the crying continues…
How it happens: 1. You cut an onion. 2. Onion cells break. 3. Enzymes break down amino acid sulphoxides… 4. …become sulphenic acid. 5. Volatile sulphenic acid becomes gas. 6. Gas irritates the eye. 7. Tear glands activate to flush the gas out. (Can’t they find a simple way to break any of these steps?)
2. Eradicating cockroaches: There are various sprays, repellents and their kind, but none of them really rid cockroaches for good. They continue to be the scourge of homes all over. Keep spraying and they’ll keep building up resistance and come back. Cockroaches have been known to withstand freezing temperatures. They have survived without food and water for three months. It’s been found that they can withstand a nuclear holocaust. Think over it. After WW3, cockroaches may rule the Earth. Man succeeds the dinosaur. Cockroach succeeds man.
In Nature, the most effective anti-cockroach devices are wasps and centipedes. But you can’t exactly keep these creatures in your home can you? Gabriela Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude has a lengthy discourse on how history has combated the menace of cockroaches. The conclusion is that the only effective weapon is a person’s footwear.
3. Daily Shaving: So much has been done to make shaving easier and easier. And we men really appreciate that. In ancient times, they used stones to rub stubbles, then shells to pull out the hair. Then they used knives, the razor, the safety razor and the electric razor (which never really took off). Today twin blades are popular. (Did you know that the Gillette Fusion razor has 5 blades?)
But we still have to shave every day don’t we? Why? Why? Why? Thousands and thousands of times in your life you have to get up in the morning and do this ritual. Why?
I have a very simple question: As a man goes bald in his head, why can’t he go bald in his chin?
In Arthur C Clarke’s The Deep Range, the hero shaves just once a month. To think, so many of Clarke’s predictions have come true (think satellite TV) and not a simple one like this! I tell you… (If it weren’t for my wife, I would have just grown a beard)
4. The common cold: There is no cure for the common cold. That’s what I learnt in school. That’s still valid today. While we have eradicated small pox and countered tuberculosis, we are still powerless vis a vis the common cold. Medicines and home remedies just relieve and not “cure”. In all probability we’ll find a cure for cancer and AIDS but this simple disease will keep striking millions of people every year, costing millions in revenue and man hours.
5. Free Time: The more inventions, gadgets and techniques that are invented to save time, the lesser and lesser free time we seem to be getting in life. Packed working days. Packed weekends. Packed holidays. We are always fighting a losing race against Time. Regular Meaningful Rest and Relaxation remains a dream…
6. Peaceful Sleep: Another malaise that is afflicting mankind is sleep: Both the quantity and quality is going down. Sleeping pills. Sleep inducing music. Sophisticated mattresses. Scientists devoted to the science of sleep. It’s all happening. But ask your parents and their friends how soundly they slept when they were small. I think the progress of science and technology is inversely proportional to the beauty of sleep. (I’d rather be sleeping than writing this article, but then I’m addicted to the laptop, PC, Internet, TV… there’s no hope for me)
7. Calling Waiters: OK, what has science & technology got to do with this? Well, cooking has become high-tech. Restaurants are more swank. You can pay bills by credit cards. Cool gadgets and mechanisms power the fast food industry. But just try getting hold of a waiter in the best of restaurants on a Saturday night. It’s really tough. Eye contact? Excuse me? Hello! Shukshuk! Ahem Ahem. Which is the magic word? I mean can’t they have touch screen menus embedded in the table or buttons to hail waiters or something? How difficult is that?
Staying one step ahead: Crime and Disease…
No matter how far we progress, two things manage to stay ahead. Some disease. Some criminal.
1. War was a great killer. Then life saving first aid, antiseptics and nursing came along. So the weapons just got more lethal. Guns, bombs, unsmart missiles, smart missiles… There’s no cure if you get radiated and survive a nuclear blast, is there? Just when the twentieth century cured many a disease, cancer upped its ante and AIDS came along. We are all living longer right? But healthier? I don’t think so!
2. The better the lock—the better the thief. The better the safe—the better the plan. The stronger the safe—the greater the explosive. Computers and cyberspace made life easier for us—but it made it even easier for the criminals. Interestingly when the technique of fingerprinting was cracked, it was thought that no criminal could escape. In the US after DNA fingerprinting was introduced and many old cases were reopened. More than a hundred “fingerprint matched” people were found to be innocent. Why? While the chance fingerprints matching may be one in a billion, the chances of “partial fingerprints” matching are a mere one in hundreds. And partial fingerprints are what police usually get at the scene of a crime. It takes a newer technology to point out the pitfalls of the old ones.
Passing thoughts… Can science & technology ever solve the following riddles…?
1. What women want: Ha ha! I don’t think I have to explain this one. This it something totally out of the realm of science, technology, progress (and logic?).
2. Does God Exist: God may exist or he may not. Either way, science should offer us proof. Instead, science just dismisses all miracles, coincidences and the “illogical” faith and belief that billions of people have about God.
3. Why the hell are we all here in the first place? As a journalist, I was taught the importance of the 5Ws and H. Who? (OK, we are homo sapiens in a universe). What? (We know all about our chemical composition along with that of the Earth and universe) When? (We know the age of the universe and man and where we stand on the timeline today) Where? (We know our location on Earth and the Earth’s rough location in the universe) How? (The Big Bang. Laws. Chemical reactions. We have it all nearly figured out.) But Why? Why does the universe exist? Why do we exist? Why are we here? Who knows!
4. OK, here’s one up science’s alley. What is Nature’s fundamental particle? The Greeks called it the atom and lo behold scientists actually discovered it! Then there was an electron and proton inside the atom. OK, one’s negative and one’s positive. Wait there’s a neutron too! Oh God, now these three are nothing but fermions which can be hadrons or leptons… Fundamental particles number in the dozens! (From The Fundamental Particle to this!) But wait! Actually the proton is made of quarks… and it continues. The more we unravel matter, the tinier it gets. Ad infinitum?
5. What you really want: Can science peek into your soul and see your inner longing and help you find out what you really want? In fact I think gadgets and devices and processes are just addictive agents that will surround you and help you but take you away from what you really want deep inside.
© Sunil Rajguru