Last week, I was off at the Western General Hospital in Edinburgh for an MRI of my aneurysms. Cos, y’know, no-one wants this…
It was all terribly efficient. I lay down on the Generation Game-style platform/conveyor belt to be conveyed into the machine, and my head was guided into a compartment to keep it in the firing line. If you will. A kind of lid with two large eyeholes and a mouth hole was closed over my face, and the fun began.
Although, the eyeholes were the right size and shape that it would have been more fun if they’d had red lenses in them for that sexy Ice Warrior effect.
The technicians told me I’d get the results in three weeks, and sent me home. That’s a nice walking distance, so I plugged myself into The World at One and set off. For all my complaints about Radio 4’s output (Eddie Mair honourably excepted), they certainly cram a lot of information into my brain. And it’s informative to note what information is taken for granted and what narratives go unchallenged.
More or Less‘s Tim Harford was talking with Martha Kearney about his World Service programme 50 Things That Made the Modern Economy, and how he’s looking for listeners to nominate a 51st thing. It’s all very A History of the World in 100 Objects, but through a more aggressive prism of economic liberalism.
Harford enlarged beyond the very basics of what they’re looking for when he told Kearney that they’re looking for something that might offer a slightly different perspective on economic history. Thus in the series to date, while one might expect to see the Gutenberg press, the editors opted for paper.
This struck me as an interesting example, so I went off to check out the applicable episode. But first, my eye was caught by another one of the 50 things – infant formula. Of course: I’m a new father.
The striking facts kept on coming in the nine-minute programme. These included:
- Justus von Liebig, the inventor of formula, was also the inventor of beef extract.
- In the early 1800s, only two in three babies who were not breast fed made it to their first birthday.
- At that time, parents who could afford it employed wet nurses – this was a respectable professional for working women, but an early casualty of von Liebig’s Soluble Food for Babies.
- Arguably, formula is more addictive than cigarette or alcohol.
But the really ear-catching bit was the conclusion – What if there was a way to get the best of all worlds – equal career breaks for mums and dads, and breast milk for infants without the faff of breast pumps? Well, perhaps there is. If you don’t mind taking market forces to their logical conclusion. In Utah, there’s a company called Ambrosia Labs. It pays mums in Cambodia to express their breast milk, screens it for quality, and sells it on to American mums. It’s pricey now, at $100/litre, but that could come down with scale, and maybe we could tax formula too, to fund a breast milk market subsidy. von Liebig’s invention sounded the death knell for the wet nurse; but maybe the global supply chain is bringing it back.
I wasn’t joking about that prism, right? So, quickly – back to the printing press.
In much the same way I’m interested in fonts, the Gutenberg press and paper got me to thinking about graphic design. How is that democratised, or slanted? The funny thing was, seventeen years after No Logo, and a mere six years after Adbusters proposed
a peaceful occupation of Wall Street to protest corporate influence on democracy, a growing disparity in wealth, and the absence of legal repercussions behind the recent global financial crisis
a cursory Google search doesn’t seem to throw up anyone – in the industry, certainly – talking about graphic design in those terms. Something to think about next week, maybe?