Actually, most of these ‘gadgets’ are things we take for granted and are labour-saving devices really. The dictionary definition of a gadget reads: ‘A small mechanical or electronic device or tool, especially an ingenious or novel one.’
Let’s start with the washing machine. Is this small enough to be classed as a gadget? More of an essential I would have thought! Can you imagine going back to doing the laundry by hand? I don’t even have a sink big enough to accommodate one sheet, let alone sheets from several beds.
The earliest prototype of the washing machine was invented in 1797, but then updated in 1851 to include a drum and manually operated turner. I remember my mother having a big gas ‘copper’, that was dragged out on Mondays, the traditional washing day, and woe betide you if you got under her feet as she struggled with boiling sheets and hanging them outside, and if it was winter they would freeze, alongside everyone’s clothing that has followed the sheets – I remember waltzing around the garden with one of my dad’s frozen shirts like a contestant from ‘Come Dancing’. Nowadays there are so many choices with washing machines, right down to the actual colour of the machine to fit in with your kitchen décor.
The refrigerator is another ‘gadget’ we can’t do without. Because of lockdown, this year I actually bought a second one, as I was trying to cut down on shopping trips and one wasn’t big enough to keep so much food fresh or frozen. Keeping things cold isn’t a new idea - the Chinese cut and stored ice around 1000 B.C., and 500 years later, the Egyptians and Indians learned to leave earthenware pots out during cold nights to make ice! In 1834, the first working vapour- compression refrigeration system was built, and in 1913 refrigerators for home use were invented, with Frigidaire introducing the first self-contained unit in 1923. And the fridge as we know it has got bigger and better over the years, some offering water dispensing options, and various sizes and shapes to fit every space, even energy consumption being a choice, and of course, colour options again.
The list of labour-saving gadgets is endless – deep-fryers, slow-cookers, air-fryers, air conditioners, food mixers, bread-makers, electric knives, toasters, kettles, coffee-makers – even the modest iron has a shelf to itself in stores now with countless choices regarding shape, colour, steam choices, etc. And if we add in the electronic devices, which I suppose are the real gadgets these days, the list gets even longer – computers, clocks, TVs, phones - no doubt more you could add just by looking around your home.
Have you noticed what is significant about all these gadgets? They are all electricity-driven. If we could just reduce our electricity consumption a small bit, with everyone doing the same, there would be huge savings to be made. Turning off unnecessary lights, using energy-efficient light bulbs, doing full loads in the washing machine, turning down the fridge or aircon, limiting yourself (or your kids!) to less computer time - all these would help reduce our ‘carbon footprint’, as even today, most of our energy is produced by fossil fuels – coal, oil and gas. Solar energy is beginning to become more widely used as a renewable energy source, but of course, you need sunlight to power it – something we have in great supply here in Portugal most of the time. Renewable energy is useful energy that is collected from renewable resources, which are naturally replenished on a human timescale, including carbon-neutral sources like sunlight, wind, rain, tides, waves, and geothermal heat. Nuclear energy might be one of the most controversial energy sources we have, and for some, the potential risk associated with nuclear power is too great. For others, nuclear looks like the answer for a zero-carbon future. So….getting back to ‘gadgets’. I suppose most people think of gadgets under the umbrella of electronics, and most people would agree that we all spend an inordinate length of time looking at screens, plugged in, but in essence, they aren’t a bad thing. All these gadgets make our lives easier in the long run, whether it be the washing machine or a phone!