We’ve all received mail order brochures secreted in the newspaper or posted through the door that are filled with inventions that promise the world. These brochures often feature smiling old ladies whose lives have been transformed by shower soap dispensers that double as audio book readers, or something more or less contrived, yet just as unlikely.
These devices have the appearance of being absolutely essential for maximising our efficiency during the limited time we have on Earth. In practice, they aren’t used more than twice.
A bit unuseless
The Japanese have a term for this: Chindōgu – which translates best as ‘unuseless’. In other words, these ‘innovative’ products do have a use in the absolute sense, but their utility causes so many new problems that they are practically useless in reality.
For instance, I used to have a fantastic book by a Japanese man who had started a society for the celebration of useless inventions. In it was a device like a sink plunger with a leather wrist strap, which commuters could stick to the ceiling of an underground train and use as a steadying handle if all existing handles were in use. The intermittent integrity of pressurised suction doesn’t bear thinking about.
I don’t know if there’s an equivalent word to Chindōgu in Korean, but it certainly seems that the two competing Asian giants have at least this interest in common. But whether the wink shutter feature of the new Samsung NX Mini camera should be categorised alongside shoe-mounted miniature umbrellas or not is, I suppose, a question only each of us can answer for ourselves.
Pulling the cord
I can’t deny that some method of tripping a camera’s shutter without having physical contact with it is useful. In fact it’s a concept we’ve enjoyed for longer than 100 years – in the shape first of pull cords, then cable releases. Self-timers soon followed, and eventually, electronic wireless remotes.
Modern times have brought us cameras that take pictures when we clap our hands and cameras that wait until they detect a winning smile before the shutter is released. Although I couldn’t make such a system myself, audio triggering seems much less impressive than a machine that can recognise a face and then determine when the brain behind the face becomes happy enough to make a picture worthwhile.
The same strand of technology is also able to register when a person in the frame has blinked at the same time the picture was taken, and can suggest, politely, that they take it again. That too, is useful.
The ability to trigger a camera when a rare or elusive beast steps on a pressure plate buried in the ground, or when it breaks an infrared beam, is also an extremely useful idea, and has allowed wildlife photographers and scientists to pry into the lives of all sorts of creatures we would otherwise understand very little.
The current cultural fascination with the ‘selfie’ – a popularised re-branding of the age-old idea that sometimes we like to take pictures of ourselves – has given birth to a whole host of inventions that aim to make this easy. Flip-over screens are one; the rear-mounted lens that aims at the aimer is another.
Of course there’s a good deal more to the Samsung NX Mini than the Wink Shutter feature, and a good deal that is genuinely interesting. But this tailoring for the current selfie obsession is a prominent point in its marketing: wink at the camera and the timer begins its two second count-down.
I haven’t tried the feature yet, but I have been practicing in the mirror. And I can exclusively reveal that it takes me longer than two seconds to recover sufficient self(ie)-respect to arrange a face not pained with the appearance of someone who has just, in all bad conscience, winked at themselves.