On Velcro

L starts school for the first time next week. It’s the end of an era. No more empty days of play and freedom. The grind starts here.

He’s very excited about it, largely because he hasn’t yet twigged that it will mean getting up every weekday, at roughly the same time, to go and do something he’d rather not do, all day, for pretty much the rest of his life.

Most of his excitement seems to stem from the chance to wear a uniform. He keeps putting it on around the house. Again, he doesn’t seem to have realised that it is effectively a strait jacket that will enslave him forever. Ho hum, these kids will not be told.

He has two pairs of new shoes, a pair of ‘sensible’ school shoes and a pair of gym daps. Both fasten with velcro. So early mornings in our house recently have been characterised by the inimitable sound of velcro fastening and refastening, which is enough to rouse anyone from slumber if it goes on long enough.

A quick google search tells me that velcro’s technical name is hook and loop fastening, which is a lot less catchy than you would expect from a product that is all about adhesion. Wikipedia informs me that it was first developed by the Swiss engineer George de Mestral, who went for a walk in the woods one day in 1948 and, after the burrs of woodland plants snagged on his clothes, came up with the idea of a hook and loop fastening system that could replace laces.

This is a nice little origin story, akin somehow to the one about the radar researcher who accidentally invented the microwave oven when a prototype microwave transmitter melted a chocolate bar in his lab coat. Like the velcro story, I hope it’s true.

I am also reminded of the entrepreneur character in the film Garden State, who makes a fortune after inventing silent velcro, then sits around all day in his mansion, staving off the boredom by indulging in increasingly dangerous parlour games.

Has any invention done more for the independence of preschoolers than velcro? Up there on the list would be the micro-scooter and the footstools you sometimes find in the toilets of conscientious shops and eateries.

But velcro tops them all. Such simplicity, such ease. Of course, all L’s shoes leading up to this point have also fastened with velcro, but the school shoes mark the first occasion on which L is dressing himself for something specifically. It’s also the first time we have asked him to sacrifice a part of his own identity in the interest of a larger community. Somehow a little uniform with velcro shoes seems just one step away from a shirt and tie, an economical car and a desk job. So in fact, it isn’t helping him be more independent at all. It’s merely helping him to be more like everyone else.

I wonder if George de Mestral thought in 1948 when he invented the stuff that one day it would allow children to put their shoes on themselves (noisily) at six o’clock in the morning. Or if his creation would be the first step in socialising children into a lifetime of conformity and consensus.

My applause goes to Monsieur de Mestral, initiating worker drones since 1948.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s