A nightmare abut towels


Love needs surveillance, and nothing escapes the eyes of Dr. K. She has the uncanny ability of retracing my day with telltale details. Within minutes of returning from work she normally recounts whether I ate, napped, read, did the laundry, etc. Normally her account is accurate. So, when she came home and declared that I did not go swimming as I had promised, I was surprised.

“But I did go swimming”, I told her. She looked puzzled and asked me what towel I used and I pointed out the brown towels that we regularly use in the bathroom.

“You don’t use these towels in the swimming pool silly, you use beach towels”, she said. Pointing the cupboard downstairs, she said that I can find them there for my swim the next day. Though I did not understand the distinction, I tried to find the towel the next day in the appointed cupboard and found a monstrous white towel from which I could have cut four towels out. Finding it dysfunctional, I decided to go for our regular brown towel once again.

“What towel did you use when you went for the swim”, asked Dr. K as soon as she noticed that the beach towel was not drying. When I told her the story, she went down and declared that I had found the towel that people can lie on in beaches, but not the beach towel that I could use to dry with. In India, I mainly had two kinds of towels: thin ones and thick ones. Over here we have bath towels, beach towels, towels for the beaches, small long brown ones, small short white ones, paper towels and what not. While I am at ease with the diversity, I find it puzzling that she takes these distinctions seriously.

In fact, I get nightmares when I consider the variety of things available in the American marketplace. Paper towels alone come in dizzying number of forms. You have a choice of the ply, perforations, perfumes, use of bleach, environmental friendliness, softness, size, brand, absorption, strength, how it is folded, how it is dispensed, etc. The choice about paper towels can be so complex that Sixth Sense team decided to showcase it as one of the applications that the technology could be used for in their famous Ted demo.

To take the story further, the search for a towel in Amazon threw up 7571 options, and many of them with further options. These included the Tinkerbell Poncho style hooded towel with LED light, crime scene beach towel and a hundred dollar bill beach towel. Many of them come with their claims of distinction and assert that they are just the right things to use for some small activity of my life.

Let me illustrate why it is scary. I have an embarrassing variety of footwear already – almost five pairs of them. Dr. K declared recently that my footwear collection is not suitable for certain formal occasions and upon her insistence we got a new pair. She gave it to me with the express instruction that I am not supposed to walk around with this pair of shoes. I now carry three pairs of footwear for two day trips: one for the occasion, one to walk around outside and one to wear indoor! Such distinctions have now been applied on footwear, towels, pants, shirts, hair conditioners and what not. For an anti-shopper that I tend to be, these distinctions are mind boggling and beyond comprehension. And if I start taking them seriously, I will soon turn into a highly dysfunctional human being who cannot survive without carrying around a truckload of things. Such a day may happen.


About Vivek Srinivasan

I work with the Program on Liberation Technology at Stanford University. Before this, I worked with the Right to Food Campaign and other rights based campaigns in India. To learn more, click here.

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