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High Tech Tackles Dust and Dirt

By Christopher Andreae / January 29, 1996

I LIKE to think of myself as techno-casual rather than techno-stressed. And certainly not as techno-hyper. Heaven forfend!

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All the same, kicking against the pricks (to borrow a phrase from an ancient technology) is undoubtedly awkward, and resisting technology is like King Canute commanding the waves. Technology, in its ever-advancing waves, is here. It is also there. And everywhere.

Is there anything that escapes from technology? My new socks, for instance, all the way from Maine to my very own footstep, are the result of (I quote) a "quantum leap in sock technology." They have "optimum breathability" and an "insulating zone." They are "engineered" by a company that "bypasses the sock industry's common cylinder-knit process." Yes, yes.

When applied to a vacuum cleaner, such techno-language seems more appropriate - though as an invention this is not what you'd call new hat. The vacuum cleaner will be a century old in six years' time.

What can the world have been like before 1901, when Hubert Cecil Booth dreamed up this dust-sucking device for the benefit of the race? Booth was a clever chap (he was a Scot, of course), though I do not know what his original machine was like.

In comparison, the first electrically powered vacuums I was aware of as a child were, presumably, ultra-sophisticated technologically speaking - though today they are seen in museums. Those "hoovers" were strange, darksome, primitive affairs with sturdy canvas bags dangling from a spring attached to the handle like a cow's udder. When switched on, they roared into ferocious life, and the bag bulged with air. Their high-pitched wailing (an unforgettable scream from which no degree of technology has yet contrived relief) was accompanied by an aroma comprised of hot dust, hot cord, and hot operator. Come to think of it, the daily "hoovering" event bore a dire resemblance to the bagpipes.

What started me on all of this is the arrival in our house of a brand-new vacuum cleaner. Perhaps "invasion" would be a better word, since the Dyson Dual Cyclone (DC01 for short) - an upright in gray and yellow - has all the appearance of a machine-creature from outer space. The DC02, which is a squat model designed to sit comfortably on carpeted stairs, looks as if it were a relation of R2D2 in "Star Wars": A machine you can feel affection for, like a small canine. (But we fell for the DC01 even though our stairs are not carpeted.) It is like a cross between a model of a 1930s skyscraper and a kitchen food processor, though obviously a vacuum cleaner at heart.

My wife prefers not to take me shopping. I embarrass her, she claims. I suppose I do - but when you have certain well-tried hobby horses, they will out somehow.

One of my hobby horses - as I informed the pleasant person in the electrical appliances showroom - is asking if I can try out something I might like to buy, before buying it. I conceded that an electric blanket (which we had gone there to purchase) posed certain logistical problems. (In the event, the one we bought was both ineffective and short, and we had to buy another one, and with no refund).