I adore these here Intertubes.
As a repository for minutiae, it can't be beat. There's nothing so mundane that you can't find someone cataloging and footnoting it. I'm more interested in the ebb and flow of everyday life than I am in what are considered important things by many. I am amused from time to time when I see people who are monomaniacs about politics shocked and disgusted that many people don't know the names of their elected representatives. I take it as a kind of inverse barometer. Everybody in the USSR knew Joe Stalin's name.
Could there be a better example of a digital mound of minutiae than the Cyber Toaster Museum? It's a magnificent compendium of ennui-chasing pictures of the most ubiquitous household appliances ever. They gamely monetize the whole affair in just the right way, offering a sort of pinup calendar that appeals to the inner Elwood Blues Brother in all of us. Hot.
They have photos of the real items, of course, and interesting scans of advertisements and so forth. I'm particularly taken with this one:
That's the very one we had on our kitchen table when I was a boy. It was already ancient when I was using it, but that's it. The little rotary knob to adjust how dark the toast came out would come off in your hand every time you turned it, and the handle on ours had the corner of it knocked off, likely by someone holding a black piece of toast in one hand and the knob in the other one too many times.
Look at the price. $23. We don't have a toaster anymore, because you can make toast in other appliances. But if you wanted to buy one, you could get one for fifteen bucks or so. Hell, you could by an actual Toastmaster toaster for twenty-eight bucks right now.
We were not rich when I was a kid. My mother would mix sugar and cinnamon together, and put it back in the used teddy-bear shaker the cinnamon came in, and we'd have toast with butter with that on it, and a glass of milk for breakfast. Upon reflection, it seems that our ration of toast was a way to use bread that had the stiffness of toast already instead of throwing it away. We never threw anything away. Even twenty-five years after my parents bought that toaster, or more likely had it given to them as a much-needed and unaffordable luxury, twenty-five bucks was half a day's pay for my mother, who was supporting us when she wasn't telling us to eat our toast.
I am profligate compared to my parents, and compared to their parents I'm downright monetarily licentious. I wonder what would have gone through my mother's mind if the toaster had stopped working back then. A new toaster would be an extra car payment today. No joke.
I think of all the various schemes that some would offer to make sure you'd always have a toaster, or a job making toasters. Rationing. Price controls. Trade barriers. Hell, maybe the thing's carbon footprint is too large and should be made illegal. My grandparents came to Massachusetts back when the Know-Nothing party ran the place and thought we shouldn't even be allowed to eat toast on this continent. Lots of people have lots of opinions about the fairness of something as mundane as the toast.
I'm just grateful, is all, for the The Cyber Toaster Museum, who reminded me how much better off I am not only than my parents and other ancestors, but how much better off I am now than I was myself when I was young. I'm grateful for reminding me how much people used to do without, and how hard people used to work to achieve even the simplest kind of ease in their lives. I think of how hard, without complaint, my parents worked to try to just raise us to adulthood with real deprivation right over their shoulder the whole time.
You're never going to hear that on the news. It's so much more scintillating to say the world will end tomorrow, after all. Good news? Progress? Some perspective? It's there, in the toaster, if you'll just look for it.