The home, household goods & services

Quiet wallpaper

As the world speeds up and life becomes more stressful small islands of quiet will start to appear. Some will be for sale, others will be for rent. Some will be real islands and others will be capsules of calm in everything from trains to aeroplanes. The sound of a mobile (cell-phone) ringing can destroy these quite moments so a British company (QinetiQ) has quietly developed a wallpaper that can disable phones by blocking out signals. This could be useful in theatres, cinemas, hospital and resturants but there's a more serious side to the idea too. Mobile phones can be used to trigger bombs. The technology is similar to the screens used in microwave ovens but previously nobody could figure out how to make large quantities of the material.

ref: Sydney Morning Herald (AUS), 7 August 2004.

The call of the wild

Lack of time is the #1 source of stress in the US and in many other countries too. Constant hurry syndrome and being burnt out before bedtime are two results of this speeding up of everyday life, but there are a number of other unpredicted consequences. One of the latest is a boom in birdsong music. Back in the 1980s The British Library (keeper of one of the world's largest collections of recorded sounds) launched a double album of bird song. To the amazement of almost everyone it sold tens of thousands of copies. More recently the British Trust for Ornithology released a CD of the nightingale which again sold by the thousand prompting the launch of two more bird song albums this year. On a related note the Fine Living Network (a 23 million viewer cable TV station) in the US recently screened its third annual ' Day of Nothing”. As the name suggests, this is a TV show about nothing except some pictures of nature. What's going on here? According to some philosophers and psychiatrists the answer is 'rebalancing'. Urbanisation and globalisation have created societies that are increasingly controlled and artificial which leads people to search for the opposite. Nature is uplifting, inspirational and creates meaning and serenity, which is why activities like whale and dolphin watching are on the increase. A study by Reading University even suggests that interacting with nature (even artificial nature) boosts mental and physical health.

ref: The Observer (UK), 28 March 2004.

The future of clothes?

In Australia you can buy a shirt with built-in sun protection (SPF 30+) while over in Singapore researchers have just developed a smart T-shirt that can monitor whether you're fallen over or not (useful for people concerned about elderly relatives who live alone). There's even a shirt called the Smart-Shirt in development that monitors your heartbeat and displays the reading on the outside of the shirt. There's also a company that has developed insect repellent clothing and another that has created what's called Sensory Perception Technology (SPT). This uses micro-encapsulation technology (already used in the cosmetics industry) to bond certain smells or chemicals to the fibres. JC Penny is already researching odour-removing underwear and it looks like clothing with medical benefits will be next.

ref: Various including Trendcentral (US).

Fair exchange is no robbery

Clarks Shoes has put its best foot forward and developed the world's first fair trade shoe. The idea follows in the footsteps of other fair trade products like coffee and chocolate which buy raw materials from producers (usually in Africa) at a fair price. The Khulani shoe is named after an orphanage in South Africa that inspired the idea. It is also based on the Wallabee shoe from the 1960s which created jobs for the unemployed in Ireland. The shoes are made in South Africa and sell for GB £29.99 with GB £5.00 going to the orphanage. A related idea in the US is 'Sweatshop free' clothing. A company called American Apparel manufactures all its garments in downtown LA and recycles most of the fabric used.

ref: Marketing (UK), 8 September 2004, Salon (US),

A shoe with limited mileage

Nike have launched a running shoe called the Mayfly that only lasts for 100 km (62 miles). After that you send it back to Nike in a pre-addressed envelope for the shoes to be recycled. Because of it's limited lifespan the shoe only weighs in at 135 grams (4.8 oz).

ref: Various including trendscape (US)

Young people with one-track minds

Regular readers will already know that we're interested in the consequences of technology. A good example is Apple's iPod. Sure it's revolutionised how people buy music but it's changed how people listen to music too. Most people have collections of music on vinyl, cassette or CD. These are slowly being digitised and transferred to iPods, but not generally as whole albums. People are downloading music from the Internet and buying songs from iTunes but again they're buying individual songs. Indeed, the very idea of an album seems to be on the way out because once music is downloaded there is no longer anything physical like a cover to look at. This has led to an increased demand for 'greatest hits' and 'various artists' collections and may also be the reason why UK singles sales have shown a 15% rise since 2003 (the first increase since 1999). Another reason for this trend is the butterfly effect - young people have very short attention spans due to instant digital gratification and 24/7 availability.

ref: The Sydney Morning Herald (AUS), 7 August 2004.

New smoke alarms

A new alarm system has been developed that produces smoke instead of noise. The smoke protection system works by mixing heated water with glycol (a bi-product of petroleum) to produce a dense cloud of smoke. After just 20 seconds visibility is almost nil and the effect lasts for up to an hour. Nobody is suggesting that this idea could be used in domestic environments but it could be useful in storage facilities or for certain types of retail premises.

ref: Sun Herald (AUS), 5 September 2004.

Modelling fashion trends

Researchers at University College London (UK) claim to have devised a mathematical model which can explain how ideas spread. The research used dog breed registrations in the US over the last 50 years to study how certain breeds came into fashion. However, the model is not predictive and can only be applied to stylistic items or designs like children's names or fashion. It cannot be applied to functional products and does not forecast when change will occur; only that change will take place.

ref: Sydney Morning Herald (AUS),10-12 July 2004.