My Short List of Things That Need to Be ‘De-Invented’

WSJ
My Short List of Things That Need to Be ‘De-Invented’
Illustration: Nishant Choksi

WHEN McDonald’s announced that it was removing the villainous cheeseburger from the Happy Meal earlier this year, it was doing what I call “de-inventing.” Parents had turned against the product due to health concerns, so McDonald’s was telling kids: “Re-think the Happy Meal. Re-contextualize. Let’s all just pretend that the child cheeseburger—silent killer that it is—never existed. You’ll thank us for this, trust us.”

I’m hoping my concept of de-inventing will become more popular. A couple of weeks ago I sat on a panel during which one of the participants induced mass spontaneous catatonia by launching into an electrifyingly inane PowerPoint presentation. A PowerPoint presentation for a seven-minute talk!

If anything ever needed to be de-invented, it is PowerPoint. Almost from the moment it reared its ugly head, it was recognized as a cruel weapon. PowerPoint made simple things complicated by turning even the most basic subject into a byzantine series of lists, that then generated other equally tortuous lists, which then gave birth to still other heart-rending, soul-destroying lists.

It’s not sufficient that PowerPoint gets purged, terminated, sidelined, discontinued. PowerPoint needs to be repudiated. It needs to get smacked in the face. It needs to be de-invented.

From time to time, society as a whole will stop in its tracks and admit that it took a wrong turn. This is why serfs no longer exist. Or the Carter Administration. It is why people no longer wear coonskin hats or bustles or chain mail or codpieces. The truth, and everyone knows it, is that the world would be a very different place if certain things had never been invented.

There are many fairly obvious candidates that an awful lot of people would be happy to see go.

But rather than bellyache, why not follow the lead of McDonald’s and de-invent them? Leaf blowers need to be de-invented. Smooth jazz should have been de-invented five minutes after it deposed real jazz. Major League Baseball’s video review policy needs to be de-invented. Public service announcements need to be de-invented. Inane, mush-mouthed sideline reporters at football games are prime candidates for de-invention.

In each of these cases, an honest mistake got completely out of hand and ultimately made life miserable for everybody. But the way to fix this is not merely to turn back the hands of time and purge our collective memories of such monstrosities. It is to admit that we were all idiots to ever accept any of these things in the first place. For without contrition, there can be no forgiveness.

Not everyone agrees on what needs to be de-invented. Some people would say the Electoral College or anyone named Kyle or passwords of no more than 16 characters containing a number, an ampersand and at least one capital letter. Others would be satisfied with de-inventing the banjo.

More ‘Moving Targets’

Still, there are many fairly obvious candidates that an awful lot of people would be happy to see go. Pop-ups. Lavender-flavored cheese. Newspaper inserts with names like “Laos Forges Ahead with High-Tech Innovation and Formidable Industry!” Mutual funds that charge a load fee. Cigars that taste like apricots. Blue Man Group. Polenta. Documentary films. Anything with the ominous word “Celtic” in it. Senior pony tails. The C major seventh chord. Waiters that sing. Electronic drum machines. The Commerce Department. Public television fundraisers. Folk music. And so on.

When McDonald’s tossed the child cheeseburger overboard, it was telling kids: “This worked once. But it doesn’t work anymore. Consider yourself lucky that we’re still serving you guys Chicken McNuggets.” Other companies should be just as bold. Why does beef jerky still exist? Chewing tobacco? Urban scooters? Marzipan? They continue to exist because no one has the nerve to say: “The world would be a far, far better place if these things had never seen the light of day.”

I’d throw kale in there too.

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