once asked a 100-year-old woman to name the greatest
innovation of her lifetime and without skipping a beat
she said, "The electric washing machine."
she were alive today, she might have said, "The
robots are marching our way.
reported in The New York Times, at least two companies
plan to bring the laundry wizards to the international
market by the end of this year.
of the devices, invented in Japan, is called Laundroid.
The other, developed in Israel by an American company,
is FoldiMate, which bills itself as "your
FoldiMate! Can you match my socks too? Thanks, pal.
from laundry is presumed to be a universal human goal,
and in the hierarchy of laundryís purported torments
ó washing, drying, folding ó the last is presumed to
be the worst, the one that until the robot revolution of
2017 has eluded technology.
before our new robot buddies cause our folding skills to
atrophy, just like calculators have ruined our ability
to do arithmetic, Iíd like to take a moment to praise
the ancient art of laundry folding.
some people, laundry is therapy.
have a relative who struggles with anxiety and
depression and when things are going wrong, she knows
what to do ó laundry.
gives shape and purpose to her time, and it offers a
beautiful reward at the end, a stack of clean clothes,
sheets and towels, evidence that the world can be made
fresh, that she can get things done.
folding is her favorite part. The smoothing out, the
lining up of edges, the stacking of underwear with
underwear, shirts with shirts. When sheís doing
laundry, sheís in charge of life.
I go to visit her, she demands to do my laundry and
always returns it to me folded and stacked with military
precision, which makes both of us very happy.
know another woman who after her husband died found her
greatest comfort down in the basement laundry room,
washing and drying, ironing and folding. The warmth and
the whirr made the little room a retreat. The familiar
neat piles when she was done seemed to turn the
upside-down world upright, if only for a while.
not as ardent a laundry folder as those two are, and Iím
grateful when someone does it for me. There are days
when my washed clothes sit in the basket unfolded until
the wrinkles have practically calcified.
when I do get to folding, it calms me down. Like
anything done consciously and carefully, itís
the creases out of a pair of shorts, tucking the sleeves
of a T-shirt in just so, leaves the mind free to roam.
Some people call that boring. I call it freeing.
accomplishment, though short-lived, is tangible and
visible. No fact-checking, no argument, no study
people feel the same way about washing dishes, a chore
that rivals laundry for most despised. In fact,
self-help articles have been written about the
"Zen" of dishwashing.
the dishes just to wash the dishes. Notice every plate
and bowl. The work is the reward. There is no hurry.
most of us are in a hurry, a reflexive, habitual,
cultural hurry, which is why the laundry-folding robots
will find a market.
FoldiMate website brags that the robot, with a potential
price of $700-850, will take a mere 2.5 minutes to fold
an average laundry load of 25 items, a task that would
take a super-fast human four minutes.
means we humans would have another minute and a half per
laundry load to spend on Facebook.
day we may look back on folding laundry the way we do on
scrubbing clothes on rocks down by the river. Were we
ever forced to do such primitive labor?
Iím guessing that Iíll keep on folding the laundry
just to fold the laundry. Unless one of those machines
can perform a feat Iíve never mastered, which is to
fold a fitted sheet in a truly satisfying way.