Your knife sucks

The glory of white-out

I recently bought a bottle of Liquid Paper, to cover over some mistakes I’d made in in tax forms I was filling out. I hadn’t used any white-out in over a decade, and I wondered: Who the heck still uses this stuff? Then I realized that, of course, bureaucracies worldwide are still mostly uncomputerized, and generate vast amounts of forms every day — which means gallons and gallons of Liquid Paper are still needed. And indeed, in our age of Enronian paper-shredding, sneering corporate mendacity, and Nixonian secrecy on the part of the federal government, what could be more quintessentially modern than a bottle of fluid that helps you hide things?

So I opened up the business section of the Sunday New York Times and discovered that they, too, had recently wondered about the fate of the white-out industry. Turns out it’s growing by 2 per cent a year; not a huge amount, but not bad either. My favorite detail from the story:

An enduring drawback of correction fluid is the solvent vapor. That could be fixed, but not without damaging the psyche of faithful consumers, said Mr. McCaffrey of Liquid Paper: “People who have grown up using a product tend to equate its smell with quality, and you don’t want to change that — whether it’s crayons or correction fluid.”

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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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