5 Products Parents Would Redesign (if only someone asked us)
Jean-Paul Sartre once wrote,
Every existing thing is born without reason, prolongs itself out of weakness, and dies by chance.
Some may argue that he was laying out the fundamentals of existentialism. I would argue he was more Faustian in this quote. It is actually a prediction. He is predicting the prolificness of battery-operated children’s toys and the hell-beast smart devices of our future. To parents, many battery operated devices seem to be born without reason, living half lives, and dying at inopportune times.
Let me paint a picture. I am certain there is a special place in hell where it is always 3am, the ground is covered in legos (and something wet). A hidden fire alarm beeps for its battery to be changed and an adorable but energy-taxing monster slumbers, fitfully, nearby. Sartre may have been an atheist but even he would concede that comparatively, Dante’s hell was a lot less perilous.
…Or maybe I’m just remembering early parenting and the innumerable perils I didn’t realize were already part of my life. The ones just waiting for their opportunity to unmoor themselves; changing from the benign, inanimate objects I blithely coexisted with, and revealing themselves to be the apocalyptic objects of nightmares and endlessly interrupted sleep. You know the horrors I speak of. One such gorgon? Anything that thought making a noise while my baby was trying to sleep was a good idea.
I realized that perhaps the blame shouldn’t be placed entirely on the objects themselves (although I’m wont to believe my fire-alarms aren’t at least a little bit sentient — and sadistic). Which left me to wonder — what kind of humans had created such objects and — perhaps most perplexing — why wasn’t I asked for my opinion on any of them?
Let me say, most of the objects on this list are things I love. But like any relationship, I also love them for their potential to grow into even better versions of themselves. More specifically, for us to grow into even better versions of ourselves (ones where they stop with the beeping and I start with the sleeping), together. I obviously learned nothing from dating in my 20’s. But here we are.
This is really a “dear John” letter to these products. And also a little bit of a self-help ultimatum from us parents. I’m looking at you, insistent appliances.
1. “Goodbye!” Toys
Sometimes you go to a party and it’s so much fun that the host ends up so busy it’s hard to say goodbye to them. If you see they are involved in some other activity (like say, being put down for their afternoon nap) do you get up on a chair and loudly declare that you’re leaving with a song and several flashing lights?
NO, because you’re not an egomaniacal plastic monstrosity. You weren’t designed with an inexplicable drive to sign off everything you do like some sort of preschool news anchor. You quietly exit. Maybe you send them a thank-you via a text or in-person at the next social gathering. If you don’t they get it — your friendship will survive.
When you hit the off button on a toy it should turn off. Without sound. Without an exit song. Please fix these immediately.
2. Insistent Microwaves
Microwaves are great. They make cold things hot quickly. Taste aside, eating something warm is a novelty for new parents and we really appreciate microwaves aiding us in this quest. THAT SAID.
We all heard the microwave beep when it was done. It coincided with the baby needing something. Please don’t make microwaves that continuously beep after they’re done. Specific chirping intervals until the door is opened and the food is presumably removed and consumed isn’t helping anyone.
We haven’t forgotten about food, we just are covered in poop, vomit, sleeping baby, etc. The continuous beeping feels like we’re being taunted. Worse, it’s escalating all the rest of our nerves by reminding us we’ve missed our ability to eat warm food. Again.
3. What Constitutes “Standard Features” in a New Car
Have you noticed how “standard” features in cars have evolved over the years? Now things thought to be luxuries like power windows, all-wheel steering, and even seatbelts (as of 1968) are items that manufacturers just assume they need to provide with a car.
You know what they don’t provide? Built-in Car Seats. Parents would pay for this as an upgrade, especially if you could flip the seat back to an adult one when needed. But I propose they shouldn’t have to. Because kids are a huge part of our community just like adults. Making everyday things accessible to a large set of our community shows that we value them as members. They will remember this when they’re older. And that’s good because we’ll need their help to know how to turn down the air conditioning in the flying cars of the future.
Volkswagen has done this already with their booster seats (though I don’t believe they’re actually released to consumers). I’m throwing down the challenge to have car manufacturers do this and make seats that can go from infant to booster. Want to really corner the family car market? Enough with the cupholder marketing. And while electric cars are great, this is the kind of innovation we want to see.
4. Infant’s Pajamas
Why would you make baby’s pajamas with snaps? Those things are hard enough to put on their tiny bodies. You’ve now created a bunch of miniature circular targets for parents to inevitably button wrong, twice at a minimum. We’re also likely undertaking this in the dark with very little sleep.
You wouldn’t try and shoot a target under those conditions. Why would you create multiple targets with high stakes circumstances at the heart of their very function?
Please put a zipper on it. Your baby pajama sales will automatically double, I swear.
5. Battery-Operated Swan Songs
First, I want to say if we’re talking about things that should be powered by a Tesla battery I think fire alarms and children’s toys should be top of the list. I also believe that we have already created artificial life. And it’s mean. I’m talking about the home fire alarm.
While we want our fire alarm to always be in working order, alerting us that the battery is at the end should not happen in the wee hours of the morning. (And please don’t “@” me with solutions like the Nest. We had one and it was so “smart” it went off whenever the humidifier was on, even though it was across the room. We tore it down and went back to the basics.)
I’m just saying think about the last big change in your life. Outside of rituals like a wedding, most folks don’t get a lot of time to announce that “change is coming!” But my fire-alarm does. It’s like our own little oracle of doom. It will “beep” for weeks on end that its battery is going to die. And it starts this message always at 3am. My child has several toys that do the same.
I understand batteries need to be changed. But I’ve also been on too many ladders in the middle of the night to think the timing is anything but maniacal.
Circling back to Sarte; these toys and the existential dread they create can easily be remedied.
I’m just asking for one thing to make it all go away. Give me a button to silence it until the morning. Preferably a giant one I can hit by throwing my shoe at it. Same goes for children’s toys which REALLY don’t need to tell us about their battery. Likely if I let a toy’s battery die, it was probably one of those super annoying ones. This was a passively planned obsolescence on my part. Manufactures — please allow these devices to go gently into that dark night.
In the words of Sartre:
Man is fully responsible for his nature and his choices.
Be the heroes we know you can be.
The New, Old Ennui
This list of torture devices is in no way comprehensive. And perhaps it’s contrapasso (i.e., poetic justice) that in our need to “improve” things, we’ve created too much efficiency predicated on the idea of fullfilling an endless immortality (if only we’d change their battery!). Here’s the thing though. Toys are not meant to be immortal. They’re meant to be timeless.
As much as folks like to joke, I think some ennui in our toys and devices might not be such a bad thing. If we’re honest, we’ve all seen instances where kids are more excited about everyday objects (like string or knives*) than the overly designed toys we deliver them.
It made me rewatch this clip and think — who’s the joke really on here? Divine comedy, indeed.
*I don’t actually let my child play with knives.