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Commentary: Look at all these useless gadgets I bought during COVID-19 lockdowns

Buying that cheap hair trimmer and electric air pumps is all the proof I need to know I'm insanely addicted to online shopping, says the Financial Times' Robert Shrimsley.

LONDON: The new electric air pump arrived on Tuesday (Jul19).

The family looked at me with sympathy and, with a world-weariness belying her years, the girl opined: “You’ve been spending too long on Facebook, Dad.”

It is true. 

At some point when this crisis is over and we have finished with all the household clear-outs that kept us occupied during our seclusion, we are going to need another spring clean to get rid of the rubbish products we bought in moments of lockdown boredom just because they were flashed before us on social media.

This clearly was not a problem for those struggling financially during the crisis but for those of us fortunate enough to have a salary which kept coming, the descent into ludicrous consumerism was precipitous.

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The chargeable air pump looked like a top gadget. You plug it into the cigarette lighter on your car and it is ready when you need to pump up a tyre. It will check the pressure and then automatically inflate the tyre to a preset level.

Farewell then, tiresome petrol station queues and the desperate search for 20 cent coins. It was also good for bicycles, footballs and airbeds and, more importantly, looked rather cool, which was obviously the key point.

Several days later it is still in its box on the kitchen table, which is where I confidently predict it will be on the day I actually need it to pump up a tyre.

One of the things that put me off it was a tiny and incomprehensible instruction sheet, which kept referring to a “back” button that does not actually exist on the device. Perhaps it meant the “black” button, which is there, but who knows?


This may be unfair and it may be a truly transformative device but the portents are not good. The pandemic has infected me with the cheap tech bug that seems to keep Facebook in business.

(Photo: Unsplash)

The easy hair-trimmer I was tricked into buying off Instagram turned out to be entirely useless, necessitating a five-week wait for another device.

The first device was, for a start, far smaller than it appeared. It might have done serious damage to an eyebrow but this surely was not the tool I had seen scything through thickets of hair in the advert.

The fact it came from China has made me reappraise my view on whether the government was right to ban Huawei from future development of the UK’s communications network. It’s not that I now fear Chinese espionage so much as that the software will turn out to be a piece of string and two tin cans.

Nonetheless, the useless trimmer is sitting somewhere in the house, probably near the electric air pump, waiting for its next use, which will of course never happen.

My wife has used the time more wisely, spending money on improving the garden and even installing a new watering system, which I had to admit I did not know was possible for gardens as small as ours. We may not be the grounds of Chatsworth but at least we share a technology.

Other top purchases include a cone thing that apparently makes it easier to light barbecues, a new spice rack, an oximeter, a cheap chimenea that spewed smoke all over the neighbouring gardens and is unlikely to be used again except as a quirky flower pot, and some fold-up dog bowls.

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Not all impulse buys failed. In the early days of lockdown we ordered a handmade cream tea which — I can confirm — is not still sitting on the table. In fact, it barely touched the table before it was gone.

In the past I have always managed to resist social media impulse buys mainly because when you look more closely they turn out to be a US$100 bottle opener, or because in a busy life you know you will use them twice and then bung them in a cupboard.

But the shutdown has given us all more time online and more time dreaming of the better life we will one day resume, and for me at least that life involves cool gadgets.

As things ease, sanity is seeping back and it is looking at me with a very stern expression. All of which is perhaps a long way of saying that if you know anyone who wants an electric air pump, I might just know a guy with one to sell.

READ: Commentary: Why we can’t resist splurging on online shopping

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Source: Financial Times/sl


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