What ever happened to the potato clock? In a revived period of do-it-yourselfers, arduino artists and 3d printing presses – a bright new age of artisanal software and hardware development – what has happened to the epitome of nerdish home engineering? At one point in time you couldn’t escape your teenage years without an awareness of the potato clock – stashed somewhere between the x-ray glasses and the sea monkeys – and then poof, suddenly they vanish from the collective consciousness.
Over lunch with my good friends Joel and Nate, I raised this question and Nate was quick to identify the exact date on which the potato clock disappeared. It happened in 2001. On September 11th, to be precise. On that day, many seemingly innocent things were recognized for the danger they are. The test of this perceptual shift occurred on January 31, 2007 when a marketing campaign for the cartoon series Aqua Teen Hunger Force turned into a bomb scare. Whereas levity typically brings with it perspective and reestablishes old norms, in this case – five years after 9/11 – the guerrilla campaign involving led lights was seen as offensive, in poor taste and led to the resignation of Jim Samples, the man who built up Cartoon Network from nothing. Which led us to ask, over our fruit salads, what other common objects – objects like the lowly pototo -- might be revealed to have a sinister aspect.
Children have always known the threatening qualities of fruits and vegetables. Adults, on the other hand, have always been somewhat oblivious to this implicit threat that children are aware of in their bones, and have been known to eat kale and Brussels sprouts with reckless abandon. We considered what it would take to capture the danger implicit in fruits and vegetables and realized all it required was a bit of tape and a phone.
Consider the banana. At first appearance, it is a pleasant and unassuming fruit with a waxy peel and a soft, sweet interior. Attach a phone to it with some electrical tape and leave it in the lobby at the airport and its true nature reveals itself. Drop it in the mailbox at the post office and see just how innocent it really is.
Leave this at the entrance to a police station and see who laughs.
Context obviously matters. A banana in a fruit basket suggests a certain functional role. A banana with electronics taped to it sets up a different sort of context. Through experimentation, we found that even the type of tape used can shift the context in subtle but meaningful ways. Silvery duct tape, for instance, is much more threatening than glossy black electrical tape when attached to fruit.
Which begs the question, what is the most threatening fruit? Here is an apple attached to an AT&T Pantech cell phone – one of the last free-with-contract AT&T phones that did not require a data plan and the automatic $25 data fee charged to your account whether you are using data or not – why can’t I just use it for phone calls and wifi, AT&T? In that scenario, the AT&T cellular contract is obviously the most frightening thing.
But what happens when we exchange the Pantech for an HTC Windows Phone?
Or an iPhone for that matter? Which is more intimidating: an iPhone 5 or an iPhone 6?
Here is a Microsoft Band wrapped around an apple. There’s a metaphor in there somewhere.
iPhone 5 and a kiwi.
Samsung Galaxy 4 with onion and duct tape.
I normally associate electrical tape with bombs and duct tape with kidnapping – which makes duct tape more viscerally terrifying for me. Some people claim they associate duct tape with ducks but I think that’s a canard. Onions make me want to cry.
One of life’s riddles: is a coconut a fruit or a vegetable?
No matter what I do, I can’t make strawberries look threatening.
Carrots, on the other hand, are Nature’s terrorists.
These carrots are organic, by the way. The extra cost is worth it for the additional fear factor.
Rubber bands can be intimidating in the right context. Especially when that context is celery. The safety pin is overkill, maybe?
This is a Nokia Lumia Windows Phone 7 developer unit with both front-facing and rear-facing cameras. It is attached to a red plum.
Kindle White meets cantaloupe.
And of course, potatoes: fear incarnate.