The Gillette Singularity

I’m coming to this one late, but some wits at The Economist recently plotted out some interesting trends in razor-blade design. They charted out the dates in which single, double, treble, qadruple and quintuple-bladed razors emerged, and noticed that the rate of increase in the number of blades per razor-head has been accelerating. It took 80 years for the industry to add a second blade, about another 15 to add the third, then only two or three years between the four-bladed Schick Quattro and the five-bladed Gillette Fusion. The story is here, and Avram Grumer wrote a funny post pointing out where this is all headed:

Now, that power-law curve predicts 14-bladed razors by the year 2100, but that’s not the interesting curve. The interesting curve is the hyperbolic one, for two reasons: One, it matches the real-world data. And two, it goes to infinity in 2015. And how are you going to get an asymptotically-accelerating number of blades onto a razor? Why, you’d need godlike super-technology to do that.

Friends, it’s clear what’s upon us: The Gillette Singularity — the moment at which the act of shaving becomes so radically unlike any shaving before it that history no longer provides us a guide to what lies before us.

Personally, the whole four- and five-blade thing kinda baffles me. If I try shaving with anything more than two blades, the bathroom turns into a total slaughterhouse — blood and guts on the ceiling. I have yet to find a razor that shaves as well as the original, simple Gillette Sensor. Yet the sad fact is that as the razor industry jetpacks its way into the eschatalogical glory of infinitely-bladed heads, the companies have scaled back production of their creaky two-bladed models. Locating an actual package of Sensor razors in New York here is like trying to find a rotary pay phone.

(Thanks to Majikthise for this one!)

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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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