Innovation, Disruption and the Enduring Value of an Old Tea Kettle

by Barrett

The use of an outdated kitchen tool can be an allegory for happiness in today’s technology-charged culture. My story illustrates why…

Nobody uses stovetop tea kettles anymore.
(You heard it here first.)

I first got a clue when I went shopping for a new kettle a few months back and realized there were only a few models on the market. And the ones I found were poorly designed, making it difficult to touch the handle without burning your fingers. But I figured my particular experience might be an anomaly.
(It was, after all right after the holidays.)

But then something else happened….

A Cup of Hot Tea
Last weekend, my family and I visited my mother-in-law, and she asked if I wanted a cup of tea. Of course, I accepted her offer.

My mother-in-law grew up in Ireland. Serving hot tea is a tradition that goes back generations. And when I say hot tea, I don’t mean like when Star Trek’s Captain Jean Luc Picard says “Tea. Earl Grey… hot!”

I mean HOT!

You’ve got to boil that water! As Mel Brooks might say, it’s not hot…
It’s ludicrous hot!
And then maybe…maybe you can make a decent cup of tea.

And her process of picking up the screaming kettle from the stove and safely transferring its raging contents into her dainty tea pot was always an impeccable skill I rather marveled at. I’d actually grown accustomed to it over the years, and this time I wasn’t paying close attention to her boiling-of-the-water dance.

And when I looked up, I saw her holding an electric kettle.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Electric?! Whoa!!

“What happened to your old kettle?” I asked?

“I bought this one. It’s so much easier to use,” she explained.

“But you’ve been using the other kettle for so many years.”

“This one is better.”

And that was it.
Huh.

Go Electric
It felt like I had just witnessed a sea change for the entire tea kettle industry.

It’s not like electric tea kettles haven’t been around. But I felt they mostly existed for times when you couldn’t use a traditional model.
(And why would you want to take up additional real estate on your kitchen counter?)

Heating up water on a fire… that’s the way our ancestors did it thousands of years ago! How can you improve on primordial perfection?

My Mother-In-Law Understands Innovation
Sure, I’ve seen electric kettles in different houses over the years, but they’ve always had that cool ‘gadget vibe.’ Press a button and BAM you’ve got hot water at the perfect temperature every time.
(It was a fad. It would pass…)

But now… I’d witnessed someone who had grown up and spent decades with the mighty tradition of fire-powered hot water casually cross over to the dark side of tea kettles and go electric.

She easily abandoned this ancient tradition…
Because she found something… easier to use.

Uh huh.

If you’ve got stock in stovetop kettle manufacturers, I advise you to sell it all… right now!

The Sanctuary of Consistency
Look, I know this story about my mother in law isn’t quite as dramatic as I’m portraying. In fact, you might simply say that it’s an obvious example of taking advantage of a not-so-new innovation. If my mother-in-law can easily understand this, but I’m somehow stuck, maybe I should think about changing my blog’s title to ‘At Home with Luddites.’

But hold on for a moment… stick with me.
(I’m not only talking about tea kettles…)

With technology changing the patterns of our lives in so many ways these days, it’s easy to accept disruption as the norm.

Perhaps we’re becoming desensitized to the overall experience of ongoing disruption.

Why am I so bothered by my mother-in-law finally updating her own kettle? I think it’s simply that I cherished the experience of her consistent process. I didn’t know how much I valued it until it changed.

I’ll still get my cup of scalding tea, but I’ll now miss the original ritual, which was admittedly more work for her.

The Big Picture
Technology exists to ‘improve.’ But we often don’t think twice about the related changes that are invariably part of the evolution.

And are these disruptions always a good thing? If so, for who?

Well, if you’re not thinking about it…if you’re just going along with the latest and greatest innovation… then that’s a problem.

Now don’t get me wrong… Change is good. Innovation is great. Just make sure you know why.
You’ve got to pay attention!

Protecting the Tea Kettles in Your Life
Many folks clearly don’t need stovetop tea kettles anymore. But apparently I do. Or at least I value the connected experience to these obsolete clunkers. That’s worth acknowledging.

I’m sure you have something in your life that represents your own ‘tea kettle.’ Don’t be so quick to let go. Make sure you really understand what it means to you before it’s gone and replaced with something ‘better.’

Upgrade Now?
My mother in law is at home with her tech.
Good for her.

Electric tea kettles are superior and are rapidly causing the extinction of their stovetop cousins.
Probably.

Thinking about how technology is changing your life and whether it’s always for the good…
Essential.

That’s being at home with tech.
Otherwise, you’ll eventually become a stranger in someone else’s cozy vison of a better life…

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