Gaming the Olympics

The Filth Epiphany

Rob Walker has an excellent column today in the New York Times Magazine about the Dyson Vacuum cleaner, which is engineered with a clear recepticle — so that you can see the dirt it picks up. Why? Previously, all vacuum cleaners have kept the dirt hidden in a bag, with the assumption that it would simply gross you out to see how dirty your house is. But the Dyson vacuum, as Walker notes, has an entirely different psychology behind it:

It uses Root-12 Cyclone technology, but really, you can talk all day about ”centrifugal force” and ”microscopic particles”; show someone a gunk-filled container and you’ve got their attention. This is why the Filth Epiphany seems much more effective than simply showing someone a strikingly clean carpet. In fact, the cleaner the carpet looks before vacuuming, the more effective the demonstration of the previously invisible grime. Imagine the mites, the lurking potential health hazards. See, your tidy-looking floors are an elaborate and dangerous lie! That vivid display of purged ugliness is an essay on paranoia, and on the belief in the power of technology to conquer threats we’ve never seen but always suspected were out there.

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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