It’s sticky stuff keeping the world together
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.