Failed inventions and fads: The flash-in-the-pan ideas that time forgot

Aren’t we all suckers for the bright new ideas dreamt up by the marketing industry? They create things we don’t really need, but convince us we just have to have one. Then they charge like a wounded bull for them when they first come onto the eagerly waiting market, and as often as not, they are usually cheap, trashy items that don’t stand up to wear for more than a few weeks! Of course, there are the classy, expensive items as well, but in the long run they rarely fare much better than the cheap ones, due to what the trade calls “planned obsolescence”, another description, euphemistically used to mean “wear out soon, so we can replace it with something else”!

This has been going on almost since time immemorial of course, but to concentrate more on the present than the past, a few things spring immediately to mind. Do you remember the bidet? 20 or 30 years ago, no builder who wanted to be ‘modern’ would dream of building a home without installing one, alongside the lavatory, even though it’s an even bet that half the people who finished up with one had little or no idea of what it was and what it was supposed to be used for.

Then there was chlorophyll! For a while it seemed that everything had to include the stuff, a wonderful deodoriser, which had to work because it was a natural product obtained from leaves, wasn’t it (whoever heard of trees with body odour)? We had chlorophyll air fresheners (remember AirWick), chlorophyll toothpaste, chlorophyll floor polish and, to get back to our old friend the lavatory, chlorophyll toilet cleaner. They all lasted a year or two, but we don’t hear a lot about chlorophyll now!

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Another favourite from a few years ago was the water bed. Excitement about this great invention swept the world; it was supposed to give greater comfort throughout the night, it was supposed to add a new dimension to your sex life and it was claimed to be pure fun to sleep in. But those who bought one soon found out the difficulties of a bed that moved incessantly, like some giant dog with indigestion, that made funny noises, as the water moved through various compartments and that could spring a leak at any time, so the sleeper sank slowly and gracefully into the frame supporting the mattress, until woken by the fact that their body was soaking wet!

Bread machines were another, more recent fad – everyone had to own one because it made a better quality, tastier product (this, despite the fact that the mixes supplied to go with them were exactly the same stuff that commercial breads are made from). The trouble was, they still needed a fair bit of time and work to prepare things, then they had to mix the dough and bake the bread, which all took much longer than popping over to the local supermarket, and when the loaf eventually came out, it had this ugly hole in the base where the stirrer was situated). You can still buy bread makers, but I don’t notice a rush to get them these days, especially since the rather good ‘boutique’ bakeries have come back into vogue, providing all sorts of bread styles, taken from all over the world, and replacing that awful ‘soft white’ available in the supermarkets.

Finally (because I am running out of the allowed number of words for articles), there is the present fad for coffee machines! This must be one of the greatest ‘cash-cow’ inventions since the start of the new century, expensive machines that require coffee to be supplied in little cartridges that fit in the top and make just one cup at a time. Oh, and the cartridges have to be of the same make as the machine – other manufacturers cartridges won’t work most of the time, and can even damage the machine. These cartridges are very expensive too, compared to the coffee making method Jacqui and I use. We love real coffee, buy the beans, grind them ourselves as we need them, and brew the drink in a plunger. At Aldi we can buy a kilo of excellent coffee beans for 11 dollars (against 30 dollars for the same quantity in Woolworths), and that lasts us for at least a month at two cups a day each. So I would think others will catch on before long and we will see the coffee machine go the way of so many other gimmicks – in fact, you can already see it happening, with machines selling for about half the price they originally were!

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Jacqui and I try to avoid gimmicks these days, but I’m sure we still get caught out sometimes, just like everyone else. The only good thing is, being pensioners we can only afford the cheap gimmicks now, not the big, expensive ones!

What’s one of the more bizarre fads or inventions you’ve seen? 


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