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The Other News Round-Up: Slip into something comfortable

Marelise van der Merwe and Daily Maverick grew up together, so her past life increasingly resembles a speck in the rearview mirror. She vaguely recalls writing, editing, teaching and researching, before joining the Daily Maverick team as Production Editor. She spent a few years keeping vampire hours in order to bring you each shiny new edition (you're welcome) before venturing into the daylight to write features. She still blinks in the sunlight.

Each Friday, Daily Maverick brings you the news you might not have seen. Because it’s a strange old world and there’s too much weird stuff happening to always make headlines. This week: self-parking slippers.

Roll on home, Elon Musk, and take your self-driving cars with you. Self-parking slippers are in the house.

It’s always nice to know, when your own country is slowly promising to dry you out like a sun-ravaged wooden mannequin, that somewhere in the world there’s a place where you can really take a load off. You know, kick off your slippers and have them politely bugger off and park themselves in the foyer until you need them again. Even if the Guptas are still more likely to go to that place than you are.

Apparently, reports Reuters, “the ProPILOT Park Ryokan looks like any other traditional Japanese inn, or ryokan. Slippers are neatly lined up at the foyer, where guests remove their shoes. Tatami rooms are furnished with low tables and floor cushions for sitting.

What sets this ryokan apart is that the slippers, tables and cushions are rigged with a special version of Nissan’s ProPILOT Park autonomous parking technology. When not in use, they automatically return to their designated spots at the push of a button.” (If you’re desperate to try it, there is a competition running for a stay there at the moment. Feel free to Google it.)

ProPILOT Park, the report explains, detects surrounding objects and lets drivers park the vehicle in a selected parking space by pressing a button, the report continues. The same technology is used at ProPILOT Park Ryokan “to entertain guests and reduce staff workload”.

Well, that’s nice. Though personally, if I were going to rig household objects with the technology to pack themselves away, I’m not sure I’d go with slippers as my priority. I might go with self-packing dishes or clothes that pick themselves up off the bathroom floor. Heck, while we’re aiming high, clothes that wash themselves and hang themselves up. And while we’re at it, maybe some self-changing nappies and self-emptying bins. Oh, and some self-cleaning fridges or self-washing Tupperware. Or at the very least, Tupperware that sounds an alarm before it becomes an entirely unidentifiable self-sustaining ecosystem on the most unreachable shelf of the fridge (particularly useful for short people). And please, Lego pieces that put themselves back in the box before some unsuspecting person loses a foot on the way to the bathroom in the middle of the night.

I’m not the only person who has pondered this sort of thing, apparently, though nobody else seems bothered by the same unique constellation of problems. The kind of inventions for the lazy that come up in a perfunctory Google search include a self-turning ice-cream cone, which despite promising enjoyment of “a classic treat without tiresome head turning or wrist twisting” strikes me as possibly the least helpful invention ever produced. For starters, I’m not sure who eats ice cream often enough that “tiresome head turning and wrist twisting” is a pervasive problem in their life; and second, if you’re going to be eating ice cream, surely, surely the least you can do is expend that minuscule amount of extra energy moving small parts of your body eating it.

Next on the list of fun but not entirely helpful gadgets was the self-stirring mug, which was novel at the time it came out (sure) but doesn’t significantly lower one’s workload in life. I’m not sure there are many people who have wondered how many hours of their life they could have got back if only they didn’t have to stir their tea so often. Although, mind you, back in the days before email I did once read an article claiming that the average human would spend six months of their lifetime licking stamps, so who knows?

Then there are chenille mopping slippers, not unlike chenille mopping baby rompers (no comment) for people who want to “clean” their floors without actually having to clean them (do they realise they’re just moving the dirt around?); pasta-twirling forks (yes, really, because twirling your own pasta is a terrible ordeal), sticks that pull up your socks for you (possibly useful?); gadgets that throw balls for your dog and even gadgets that will pet your dog; shoes that lace themselves; and even a self-making bed (okay, I’d buy that). And then there are, of course, all those apps that write our text messages and emails for us: “Sorry, I am running late,” “No, I am not available,” or the ever-helpful series of templates from Google Inbox, which honestly creeps me out at a completely different level. “Wow, that seems like a great idea.” “Have you received my payment?” And any number of other strangely personalised responses that make it utterly clear Google has actually succeeded in decoding my emails. (Shudder.)

Then there is an entire range dedicated to sleep and rest, because we are, as we all well know, chronically exhausted. There are inflatable ties that double up as pillows. There are portable sleeping pods that one can carry to work. There are hoodies that can be worn discreetly that double up as wearable beds. There are wearable sleeping bags.

For the completely fashion unconscious, there’s the wearable chair, a boon for those who want to sit “everywhere, and anywhere”. Actually, jokes aside, this one’s pretty useful. It’s in fact not directly aimed at lazy sods who want to be able to sit at all times, but rather at industry workers who are on their feet most of the day and need to have ready access to a working seat. It’s really a wearable skeleton with flexible legs that fold into a chair automatically when the wearer sits down. Which, say what you like, could come in pretty handy at Home Affairs too.

But my real concern about all these inventions is not so much their usefulness as what, assuming we had them, we’d do with all that extra time. Will we spend it actually living better? Something tells me we won’t. Considering so many of these inventions are aimed at removing the need to rest (sleeping on the move, not having to speak to humans directly, not having to pat our own dogs), aren’t we just trying to shave off time so that we can spend more time rushing around making more reasons to rush around? It all seems pretty circular, if you ask me. DM


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