Crumbs From the Corner: Adventures in Woolgathering

Monday, December 1, 2008

Tea and Progress



"What we call progress is the exchange of one nuisance for another nuisance."
-Henry Havelock Ellis

The teapot: a humble, simple implement that has faithfully served humanity's needs for hundreds of years. An elementary instrument for a straightforward operation, it has needed little adjustment or alteration through the ages.
But we went this weekend to a department store and found that some clever fellow had decided to improve it.
Spouse and I wandered over to one charming little teapot. Drawn by the exorbitant price tag that piqued our curiosity, we paused to examine the decorative and functional qualities of a designer item.
Spouse made an effort to wrest the lid from the top but found himself struggling and grappling with the flimsy porcelain disc.
We were on the verge of reaching the conclusion that the teapot must in fact be bolted, and I was looking all about for an assistant who might have such a key on their person, when Spouse found success and we were able to peer at last into the depths of the vessel.
Much to our disappointment after all the effort to get a glimpse, it looked like a perfectly ordinary teapot and we soon decided to get on with the remainder of our browsing.
Spouse tried to position the top back onto the teapot but it would not fit into place. There was a distinct protrusion on the lid that required precise alignment with a notch on the cusp of the container and a thirsty person could neither open nor close the teapot without first getting the measure of where the two pieces met.
I had never seen such an intricate system inside a teapot, nor one so utterly useless.
The architect presumably thought that the convoluted arrangement was vital to the progress of mankind, that the classic tea dispenser- along with the notion of being able to pour one's tea while it was still piping hot- ought to be a notion of the past. The change was not efficient: deviation from the established style had failed to contribute positively to the evolution of the teapot and had, in fact, brought trouble to the business of making tea where trouble had not previously existed.
Spouse, an engineer, spent a whole minute involved in a battle to open and close the teapot.
I, a notorious tea drinker and user of a great variety of teapots over the years, wondered why anybody would bother to fix an item not in need of mending; and I went on my way.

6 comments:

julochka said...

i myself wonder even further why we put up with a stunningly badly designed (by bodum, no less) kettle for a good 4-5 years. it leaked and we burned ourselves on it on a daily basis, but it was very pretty and we had paid handsomely for it, so we kept using it...what is it about designers and their designs? i'm sure you had more strength than we did and walked away. :-)

mouse (aka kimy) said...

it does appear to be a human trait to try to fix things that aren't broken.

this story does seem to indicate that the teapot designer must have had a bad experience with a top falling off while pouring a cuppa....

hum, a cuppa sounds like just what I need right now. off to make a pot! a pot which adopted son t gave me last christmas by the way.

hope you and spouse had a happy thanksgiving and are off to a good start for the holiday season!

Pauline said...

I imagine it's the challenge to make a good thing better without the realization that what makes it good in the first place refutes the need for improvement.

I have a number of teapots - the only difference between them is outer decorations.

TheElementary said...

Julie, we did walk away although it was very nice to look at. I don't know why they thought they had to "improve" it with a strange addition.
It's as though they go out of their way to make a bad design. Surely that's harder than making a functioning, standard one!

Kimy, I think you're right- but he must have planned never to make another cup of tea again, and vowed that nobody else would either ;) We thought maybe the top was supposed to be childproof but if grown-ups can't access it either, it's useless.
I hope you enjoyed your tea!
We had a very nice Thanksgiving. It snowed a bit, and we had lots of food stocked up.

Pauline, absolutely. They didn't quite understand the teapot or reasoning behind its efficiency.
Everything is like that, it seems. Even on websites, and on software programs. I see useless changes all over the place. And I wonder why...

tangobaby said...

Growing up in a country that does not have a history of tea drinking, I have to say that one of my favorite kitchen gadgets is this Japanese hot water thingy we have that keeps water almost to boiling whenever you want it. It's plugged in and sits on our kitchen table.

So to make a cup of tea, all I have to do is press a button and instantly have boiling hot water. And now for some reason, I feel terribly guilty for not having a teapot. *sigh*

TheElementary said...

Tangobaby, that sounds like a really nice gadget- but I'd probably drink too much tea if I had that. The tea is not a problem but the sugar amount is ;)

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