If you’re like most people, and statistically speaking, you probably are, when you were young, you had grand visions of what the world would be like in the future. You dreamed of a world that seemed to you almost unimaginably different, a world where people would miraculously speak with one another at great distances through a tele-phone, would move rapidly from place to place in strange horseless carriages with mysterious round rotating rubber legs, and would place coverings fashioned of networks of fibres over their naked bodies to retain body heat. These were your dreams for the near future, and they really weren’t very imaginative. Your dreams for the more distant future, though, were more fantastic — our homes would be cleaned by robot butlers, we would zip from place to place in flying cars, our anuses would be cleaned by robot butlers, we would take erotic vacations to distant exotic planets populated by lascivious aliens, and our very bodies would become amorphous levitating protoplasmic blobs of slime and thought. And now that the future is here, what do we have to show for it? The world today is a massive disappointment. Our houses are filthy and squalid, we drive from place to place like a bunch of earth-bound chumps, and we clean our own anuses like a bunch of self-anus-cleaning chumps. Robot butlers and flying cars are nowhere to be seen — and let me tell you, it’s not because they’re behind invisibility cloaks, because those haven’t been invented either, despite the lame media hype — and scientists are making only marginal progress on turning us all into blobs of slime. And don’t even get me started on the sex tourism. What a joke that is. All we have to show for the last fifty years is a bunch of stupid internet stuff and a whole bunch of other stupid stuff. How did we get here? How did it all go so wrong?
Once we start fitting the pieces of the puzzle together, though, it all starts to become clear. It’s not hard to see why we’re in the midst of a stagnation in innovation. We’ve all become too comfortable. There’s no ambition, there’s no real motivation to change the world. Just consider the familiar saying that something or other is “the greatest thing since sliced bread”. The popularity of this expression is a clear indication that we’re setting our sights too low. Personally, I’m really not that impressed by sliced bread, and I want to live in a world where our most advanced technologies are not described by a slightly favourable comparison with a mound of flour that’s been heated for a while and then cut into separate pieces. As a society, we need to aim higher! How about making something that’s twenty, even fifty times better than sliced bread? A hundred times! How does that sound? Now we’re talking. Just imagine the cleanliness of our anuses in that kind of world. Okay, that’s good enough, you can stop imagining now. And furthermore, what’s so great about slicing? Is Apple coming out with a new version of its iPhone that’s been sliced into multiple pieces? Do they brag about how their new iPads are run through a set of heavy-duty mechanical cutters? My industry sources tell me no, but analysts report that if Apple did sell their products in sliced versions, those would be profitable niche products that would sell very well to their loyal customer base. In any case, what Apple does brag about is how their latest iPad is even thinner and therefore even easier for the schoolyard bully to snatch away from you and snap in two. This is part of their well-crafted plan to dissuade pedophiles, who make up quite a significant portion of the iPad market, from visiting schoolyards. It’s that kind of care and attention given to all the little details of the user experience that make Apple stand out from the crowd. Anyway, the point is, it’s time to move on from our adulation of sliced bread. It’s time to leave behind the primitive, gory sacrificial rites in honour of our god of sliced bread and charge screaming headlong into the future, a future that we can only hope is full of even gorier but more technologically-mediated sacrificial rites.
But there’s still more that’s wrapped up in this dastardly expression. Saying something is “the greatest thing since sliced bread” implies that sliced bread was, in its day, the greatest thing ever. This, in turn, implies that before sliced bread, there was nothing that could equal its greatness. Think about that. What kind of sad world was that, where even the most amazing, wonderful things paled in comparison to a bag of almost completely edible Wonder Bread? It’s little surprise that life expectancies were so low in the pre-sliced bread era — who would want to drag out their existence any longer than they had to in such a dreary world? But thank Providence for that crucial visionary moment of Einstein or Mandela or Tesla or whoever invented sliced bread. It went like this, no doubt: following their passionate coupling, his paramour expressed ecstatically how their intimate embraces had been ‘amazing’ and ‘wonderful’ and other such superlatives. Tesla then thought to himself, yes, it was rather nice, but I think I know what would be really super awesome! And so it was: after years of painful trial and error in the laboratory, and plenty of bread shrapnel embedded in the lab walls to show for it, sliced bread came to be. And the rest is history, most of it unfortunately unverifiable, but oh so tasty with a bit of peanut butter and jam.