Chindōgu (珍道具?) is the Japanese art of inventing ingenious everyday gadgets that, on the face of it, seem like an ideal solution to a particular problem. However, chindōgu has a distinctive feature: anyone actually attempting to use one of these inventions would find that it causes so many new problems, or such significant social embarrassment, that effectively it has no utility whatsoever. Thus, chindōgu are sometimes described as “unuseless” – that is, they cannot be regarded as “useless” in an absolute sense, since they do actually solve a problem; however, in practical terms, they cannot positively be called “useful”.
I often find myself wondering how many of the things we allow into our lives could fall into the category of chindōgu. How many problems in our lives were introduced by the things we hoped would make it so much better. Especially in the area of technology. The things that do have many useful qualities, yet create many more unforeseen and unexpected problems.
An even better line of thinking may be what useful things become chindōgu because of the way that we use them. Is a smartphone just out of the box useful but, after installing a few dozen distracting and purposefully time wasting apps does it become chindōgu? Was the social network you joined useful when you only followed a couple of dozen friends to keep up with their lives useful but, now that you follow a few hundred people you barely know, is it chindōgu? How about those few blogs you added to a RSS feed reader to stay abreast of a particular subject or save some time navigating to each one? That was useful, I’m sure. Are the few dozen more you added after that? Or is it now mostly newsfotainment™ with little actionable information? Is it now chindōgu?
Now, I know at this point I’m not using the term in the same sense as it was coined. But I find it a good launching off point for thinking about those things we invite into our lives that seem so useful at first but turn out to create more problems then they really solve. And, like chindōgu, I think we should work to identify these things, dismiss them as unuseless, and quickly move on.