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Jewish World Review
June 24, 2013/ 16 Tamuz, 5773
The clothes iron: Our tech-savvy world's most neglected device
My room contained everything one would expect in a five-star property: terrycloth robes emblazoned with the hotel's logo, slippers precisely placed at the foot of the bed and enough fluffy towels to dry all exposed body parts individually, if that's what you're into. A floral scent was noticeable throughout.
"This is living," I thought, as I lowered the blinds via a tabletop console that also controlled the lights, air conditioning, stereo and television volume. Then I opened the closet and was greeted by a reality sucker punch to the gut. There, on a shelf between the digital safe and the "Program your precise temperature" espresso maker, stood the invention that technology has completely ignored.
Behold, the iron.
At a hotel like this, I was expecting some sort of device that I could stuff a balled up sport coat into only to have it reappear warm and wrinkle free -- similar to those spinning contraptions that dry bathing suits in seconds. Actually, I was expecting a butler to leap from the closet and say, "Here, I'll do that for you. More mineral water?" Instead, I found myself staring at an appliance that looked as if it were stolen from my mother's basement cupboard in 1968. Ditto for the accompanying ironing board that creaked and wobbled like an 80-year-old man who had just discovered yoga class as I attempted, arduously, to make my dress shirt look presentable.
Have we given up on improving the iron? Did we ever intend to improve it? Invented in 1882 by Henry Seeley, the first iron weighed nearly 15 pounds and, according to Wikipedia, "took a long time to warm up." Sure, we've reduced the weight but not necessarily the warm-up time. I couldn't even tell if my hotel iron warmed up at all because, 10 minutes after turning it on, the 445-degree linen setting felt suspiciously similar to the 275-degree nylon temperature. Nevertheless, I filled the reservoir with water and began making horizontal strokes, pausing several times to curse as water cascaded onto my shirt, giving it the appearance of a garment worn by a very nervous individual.
Automobiles of today bear zero resemblance to what rolled off Henry Ford's assembly line in 1913, save for the number of wheels. Alexander Graham Bell wouldn't recognize anything at a Verizon store. Yet the iron still looks like Seeley's original model -- a poorly drawn triangle with a one-size-fits-all handle slapped on top. A Google search for "ergonomic iron" did net a few results from name-brand appliance makers like Panasonic, but I have yet to see these irons anywhere and am starting to think they only exist on the Internet and tradeshow floors. I felt the same way after touring the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in 1999 and seeing products that, 14 years later, still can't be purchased at Best Buy. Weren't we all supposed to have touchscreen coffee tables by now?
Perhaps we've neglected the iron because it is not the least bit sexy, and like a snow shovel, it reminds us of manual labor. Irons are never found on wedding registries.
"Look, honey, we got that iron you wanted! And here's that toilet plunger I requested!"
But, please: Somebody, anybody, bring the iron into the 21st century before we enter the 22nd. I no longer wish to channel my inner June Cleaver when it comes to making myself presentable for important meetings. I'm ready for an iron that can be controlled via a smartphone app. I want to be wrinkle free without the possibility of burned fingers or carpal tunnel syndrome. I want an appliance that can detect whether my clothes are cotton, silk or acetate. All of you brilliant technology-minded individuals who are reading this, please submit your designs, and please do it quickly.
I'm tired of texting all of my ironing questions to my mother.
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Greg Schwem is a corporate stand-up comedian and author of "Text Me If You're Breathing: Observations, Frustrations and Life Lessons From a Low-Tech Dad".
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• An 'F' is a very 'Nobel' grade
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© 2013, Greg Schwem Distributed by Tribune Media Services, Inc.