The standard doorbell

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Sometimes I have a sort of philosophical thought bubble, I spend weeks going over a certain subject that fascinates me, mostly the ideas thought of long before my time, covered by science or philosophy. However there is a joy in this process of personal discovery, Buckminster Fuller did this sort of thing in the 1960’s there is value in exploring old ideas, covering well trodden ground just for the sake of it from a modern perspective.

My journey starts with the humble doorbell, I was knocking doors for an upcoming by-election and I started to take note how many people have doorbells. There are a bewildering array of different doorbells, most had a simple functionality: – You pressed the button and the chime went off, that seemed to dictate the overall ‘look’ of a doorbell button. However the particulars of the doorbell seemed to wildly deviate; different colours, chimes, material and design.

The functional played a part for the position of the doorbell, it had to be available for the person at the door to simply press, it was common that people had their doorbell placed at exactly the same height and on the right hand side.  The electric doorbell was invented around 1831, before that people had all sorts of ornate and ingenious ways to tell the homeowner there was someone at the door, these are still around and used, the twisty ringer, the actual bell with a rope on it and the metal fixed knocker are some examples.

At first glance all this seems obvious, humans have a sort of standard for doorbells, I mean there isn’t a huge amount to think about there. But there also seemed a standard for where to ‘place’ the doorbell and a standard for the way the doorbell was actually presented. As I went to each house I started to realise there was a standard and functionality for everything on a house, for the letterbox, the gutters the driveway for the whole house even. Give a child a pen and paper and ask them to draw a house..they draw a roof to windows and a front garden our mental picture of a house is universally standardised from a very young age.

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In Bill Brysons book At Home, he covers briefly the history of many domestic objects, in the beginning of his book he discusses the salt and pepper shaker, Bryson asks an interesting question about the nature of the salt and pepper shaker: Why salt and pepper, why not say salt and cinnamon? What led to them being those particular spices becoming standardised? (He does in fact go into detail to explain the historical reasons why) but his original questioning fascinated me,  you could ask the same question for doorbells, why a door ‘bell’ and not a door ‘buzzer’, why a ‘button’ not a ‘switch’.

 

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Hand outlines found on a cave wall in Indonesia are at least 39,900 years old

I left my ideas about the doorbell for a few weeks until something in the media re-ignited my thinking on the door bell and the concept of standardisation. Some human cave paintings from the Indonesian Island of Sulawesi were dated to about 43, 000 years ago much earlier than any other human art, the striking thing about them is not just their age but their similarity in style and application to paintings from northern Australia from a much later date.

There seems to be a cultural and artistic standardisation going right back almost as far as we can find human artifacts, however the concept of standardisation itself, seems to be framed as a recent discovery mainly confined to the industrial revolution.

Historians and archaeologists sometimes point to a little earlier to weights, coins and measures as examples of standardisation. But here we have on this very ancient wall, painted so long ago signs people culturally had a very precise standard, a form that had to be taught and shared culturally through communication the look and feel of these hand paintings was to persist for thousands of years.

Back to the doorbell, the odd thing about the door bell is that in today’s world it is largely a mass manufactured item something that for 100 years or so people could purchase and place on their door, like in star wars with all the outdated robots hanging around to go to the incinerator there are just a stupid array of different makes and models of doorbells that exist however we can all identify them as standard doorbells.

Philosophy bubbles to the surface here, and I am reminded of the ‘idea’ we have of something, like a Platonic and objects we imagine a perfect doorbell in our minds and a perfect place to place or to think about the object or idea,  this is reinforced by seeing it in existence, in similar places on other houses making or forming a kind of standard of doorbells in our minds.

This standarisation, applies to literally everything we do and create, standardisation is only something we apply to the real world, the actual time and outcome of these material objects is not secured unless a similar idea is imposed on them for the whole duration of their existence, this is where the complexity of the longevity of the hand paintings comes into view.

Psychologically, we can apply standarisation to things like behavior, our behavior can be split up into ideas that require a certain level of standarisiation so it can be communicated, it is here that life itself is included, because like us many species communicate to survive.

Bee’s must standarise how they collect honey or a beaver must standardise how he builds a dam, life must also have the facitlity to create door bells.

I  am not sure how I got so far away from my original thinking about doorbells, but I feel we are linked to this mental formation of standarisiation and the more you look around, the more you start to see it, in objects we create, in our ideas we think about  and in people and their personalities,  even in animals and insects and their behavior.

Yet I can’t see a reason for it other than mere survival, there are objects on our planet like a volcano that are not crafted by standards, but by physical inhert interactions only, yet it is only our minds that form categories and standards for these things.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Penguin History of the World J.M Roberts

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As you float down through the centuries very deep thoughts about humanity appear and then fade away, great images and civilizations pass briefly like falling leaves.

Individuals are part of something bigger, sometimes people loom larger than others, Jesus, Siddhartha, Confucius, Plato, Mohammad, Newton, Marx, Darwin, and Freud.

There is something surreal about reading about history like this, for me it brings comfort, joy, it reminds me of warm cups of and tea leather armchairs on rainy days.

The smell of the page and the enjoyment of a mental journey, that you alone are about to undertake…this is no small task this is ALL OF HUMAN HISTORY.

I have two other world histories recently completed that help me with this journey – IDEAS: A history from fire to Freud by Peter Watson, The Passion of the Western Mind by Richard Tarnas 

I excitedly dived in to this project, savouring every page expecting images of Persians, Romans and sparkling clad soldiers headed into battle.

However as I began a disturbing set of thoughts started to take hold and have been slowly clouding my vision of history. The first cloud occurs in pre-history, there seems to be literally hundreds and thousands of years of pre-history missing, that is nothing really occurred not even a simple scratch on a cave wall.

Just think about that for a while, we live in an age where humanity has a serious case of attention deficit disorder, it simply can’t go anywhere without covering every blank space available with tags, posters and advertising, here are our very distant ancestors who shared identical grey matter and facilities living in a giant and what must of seemed like a very devoid world, with no graphic art or media for hundreds and thousands of years.

No matter how much thought I put into this subject I can’t fathom it, it is beyond my imagination.

As you move forward on your magical mystery tour of history the carnival throws up all sorts of questions, there are plenty of gaps and guesses at simple things that we ought to really know a great deal more about. The gaps and guesses pile up even right into recorded history by the time you reach the classical age the history reader is so burdened by the massive and apparent holes in our knowledge that you find yourself unable to stop thinking ‘Maybe that is in another book you haven’t read, just forget about it and move on’.

Take the curious case of the same technology (Agriculture, Iron smelting, Pottery, Writing)  arising independently sometimes simultaneously in supposedly totally isolated civilizations, or why some civilizations took eons to make any move forward while others seem to make huge strides in a relatively minuscule period of time, or major historical events within written history that have gone ‘missing’, or in some cases altered to suit later rulers or religions. Some of the writings and objects we have found that supply us with huge amounts of information like cuneiform tablets seem to come to us totally by accident a mere fluke of history that we have uncovered and deciphered them.

In Penguin History of the world, a small passage is spent wondering about how the peasants of ancient China actually spent their daily lives and slowly and finally it hit me, the reality of history

Why am I different to a peasant that lived 3000 years ago? or a normal Egyptian worker, A Greek farmhand or slave?

I had the same feeling when I visited the Louvre, it was not only the great number of beautiful artworks it was the scale of humanity that had to transpire to create them, the sweat the toil and oil and brushes, stone and marble, but more interestingly every now and then you passed a glimpse of an ordinary person who lived hundreds of years ago just like you living their lives that are now gone and that portrait is all we have.

Real history has this effect, it reminds you of the eons and eons of families and workers that have gone leaving nothing behind not a scratch. In history books whole civilizations are treated as people, that is millions of people and their lives come and go they wax and wane in a few passages, it just seems obscene when you consider the scale of it all.

In my own life I have been witness of six prime ministers of Australia, five presidents of the United States, a Bosnian war, two Gulf wars and an incursion in Afghanistan, a terrorist attack on New York and a global financial crisis and yet in all that time there has been only one monarch – Queen Elizabeth, she is on all our coins here in Australia and in the future people will look back at these coins and see her face, this is history.

It is therefore difficult to get any kind of scale here in Australia, a country relatively devoid of civilizations great achievements (Besides some remarkable early cave art by aboriginal people) In this relatively new country the past is the stuff of a short ABC documentary and a few scuffed sandstone blocks in Sydney, for us here it almost entirely abstract. We don’t live with the past here, history does not infiltrate our daily lives or our ideas it’s largely all a subconscious handing down of the western tradition and many people are only dimly aware of what that means.

The Penguin history is a monumental, yet as a history book it can only ever brush a little of the dust away from the vast and complex dialog of human history.