Fordyce Maxwell: ‘Technology speeded up gadgetry but the humour level has deteriorated’

HANDS up all those who would like to help to get the economy moving? Good. Now what about all those who would like to do that by buying one of the many “gadgets for men” advertised in the countdown to you know what?

No, no, too many. Put them in your pockets, away from credit cards. Do not buy a gadget. Don’t let your loved ones buy one either. Don’t be seduced by claims for tools with 21 uses that can’t open a bottle or turn a screw, any gadget that complicates simplicity – £8 for a plastic snowball maker, £17.99 for an electric windscreen scraper – or a watch with built-in camera and microphone. On no account buy a talking toilet-roll holder.

Reading the blurb for that was when the penny dropped – sorry, little Freudian slip there – about catalogues and supplements trying to sell these gadgets and gifts. They are the modern, higher-priced equivalent of adverts in boys’ comics a generation ago of ways to “Amaze your friends!” ranging from a “nail through the finger” to plastic dog turds.

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Unfortunately, as minimal online searching showed, technology has speeded up the gadgetry but the humour level of novelties has deteriorated. I don’t recall outsize male and female genitalia figuring in the Rover and Eagle.

But at that impressionable age, I confess I was tempted by gadgetry, particularly the Seebackascope. It cost half a crown (12.5p) to discover that this miracle was two mirrors, angled at each end of a square plastic tube, which allowed the user to see what was happening behind them without turning their head. A waste of money, but a less expensive mistake surely than today’s £420 ski goggles that “know where you are”. At that price, I should hope so. Alternatively, here’s an idea: study a map before skiing and save £420.

Another advert was for something called the Tankbot, a “desktop destroyer” that can be controlled using a smartphone “to infuriate colleagues”. In my experience it took less time to infuriate some colleagues than others, and the appearance of a desktop destroyer as deadline neared would have tipped some over the edge. My own reaction would involve a low-technology hammer.

No need to labour the point. Gadgetry such as a Mood Duck radio for the bath; a pen that can also punch holes, pick ears, file nails and fork food; a sling to fire water balloons and the handbag-friendly multi-tool are easy targets.

What baffles me is that some of them must have been bought. Friends, harden your hearts. Ignore the fact that some fellow humans are spending years that will never come again inventing and making this rubbish. Forget the national financial crisis. Resolve to buy only gifts that can be read or with wooden handles and no moving parts. We can get through this together.