Dr Johnson in his Dictionary defined 'network' as 'anything reticulated or decussated at equal distances, with interstices between the intersections'. How, then, would he have defined 'zip-fastener'? Since a certain testiness was apt to impair his objectivity, he might have settled for something like: 'a hateful device in which collinear interdigitation usurps the function of buttons.' He would happily have concurred with Carlyle in deploring the rage for calculated mechanical contrivance to replace manual operations. What was (and is) so wrong with buttons, snaps, poppers, hooks, studs, laces, toggles, drawstrings, safety-pins and even old-time fibulae? But, as Robert Friedel shows, the passion for novelty has become the real mother of invention; necessity rarely enters into it. Today the greatness of a nation is measured by the aggregated lengths of zipper to be found in its people's wardrobes. The zipper has ceased to be the sine qua non and ne plus ultra of the privileged West. Friedel's book reveals that the Japanese have won the race to zip up the world; his figures show that the Yoshida company, with its doctrine of the 'cycle of goodness', now has 171 zipper plants and factories in 42 countries, turning out 1.25 million miles of fasteners annually. How much longer can the last noble savage resist the zippered loincloth?
LRB 6 April 1995 | PDF Download