It’s sticky stuff keep­ing the world to­gether

The Star Early Edition - - OPINION & ANALYSIS -

VISCOSITY is the mid­dling-big word for “sticky stuff” and is not a sub­ject that takes much headspace from your av­er­age ou on an av­er­age day. I’m on it to­day be­cause it hit me as a neat home­spun ex­am­ple of the spec­tac­u­lar way that our world ac­cel­er­ates.

There was a time that your choice was sim­ple. You had glue, or you didn’t have glue. If you had glue, you were sel­dom sure of what ma­te­ri­als it would stick, or for how long, or how much of a tell­tale glue ridge was go­ing to alert your mother that her prize teapot had got in the way of a fly­ing ball from a cru­cial home game.

What your glue would stick was in­dex fin­ger to mid­dle fin­ger. I re­call a week at pri­mary school with my fin­gers so joined that nei­ther the medic nor the hard­ware guy could think of any­thing short of a chisel or a blow­torch.

Glue was un­for­giv­ing, undis­cern­ing and un­re­li­able. Now it is none of those. Need a glue that sticks like weld­ing? No prob­lem. A glue that sticks un­til you peel it away? No prob­lem. A glue to re­move, to knead, to use again? No prob­lem.

When the lap­top ap­peared with its anti-grav­ity lid that stays where you want as long as you want, that was a marvel­lous slice of ge­nius. The elec­tron­ics nerds be­came bil­lion­aires, I hope the lid-in­ven­tors got their desserts too.

Re­cently we bought a new fridge, all mov­able parts taped up for trans­port. I qui­etly cursed the prospect of much un­stick­ing and much clean­ing-up of sticky bits hang­ing over. Hah! Re­move the tape and the sur­face is vir­gin.

It doesn’t end. Last week I dis­cov­ered ul­tra-glue, in­vented by an Ir­ish stu­dent named Jane Ní Dhulchaointigh, who has been haul­ing in in­ven­tor­ship awards but has amaz­ingly never scored a sur­name award (I’ll bet hers does the Ir­ish thing – what’s im­pen­e­tra­ble on pa­per is easy on the ear, per­haps Dull­can-tick or Dool-coin-tie).

Jane’s big hit came up as a byprod­uct of her be­ing “rub­bish” at art class. Stick­ing any­thing to any­thing is just the start of what it does, the rest is be­ing any­thing – the miss­ing pad on your hel­met, swivel on your pedal, foot on your chair, any­thing that you can mould.

Be­yond sticky stuff, look at packaging. Un­til yesterday, metaphor­i­cally, noth­ing was tighter than a packet of air­line peanuts, de­mand­ing scrunched fin­ger­nails and cracked teeth to get at them. Now there’s the mer­ci­ful strip that lightly gives way.

There are blind al­leys, too. Screw­tops that you press while you un­screw may stop lit­tle hands from delv­ing into stuff that lit­tle mouths shouldn’t meet, but are mur­der­ous on the press­ing-knuckle.

They’ll solve that, and progress will keep ram­pag­ing, of­ten sheer ideas, no tech­nol­ogy needed. The in­ven­tor of honey bot­tles that stand on their heads needs a No­bel prize.

So do Bernard Sadow and Robert Plath. Bernard was mak­ing heavy weather of two suit­cases at Mi­ami air­port in 1970 when some­one passed with his cases on a pan­el­beater’s dolly. Back in New York, Bernard made a four­wheeled case pulled by a rope. It wob­bled and tip­pled and when he pulled it into Macy’s head of­fice, the buy­ers broke into laugh­ter.

Bernard laughed later. His “glid­ing suit­case” took off, though mod­estly, un­til 1987 when Plath, a pi­lot, de­tached two wheels and in­stalled a rigid han­dle­bar. Voila! An end to numb hands and aching backs for lug­gers of lug­gage.

Ah, glorious in­ven­tion, glues and lids and wheels and all. I won­der when we’ll get around to do­ing the same with in­jus­tices and crime and our fears of other peo­ple.

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