Rachel Maines is a visiting scientist in the Cornell University School of Electrical and Computer Engineering. Her principal research interests lie in the history of technology, especially issues relating to technology and the body, such as sexuality, medicine, technological risk, and injury epidemiology. She is the author of three books: "The Technology of Orgasm: 'Hysteria,' Vibrators, and Women's Sexual Satisfaction" (1999), "Asbestos and Fire: Technological Tradeoffs and the Body at Risk" (2005), and her most recent, "Hedonizing Technologies: Pathways to Pleasure in Hobbies and Leisure," published by Johns Hopkins University Press in 2009.
Question: Will present-day chores, like laundry, ever become recreational?
Rachel Maines: Well, you know, I wondered about that, I wondered about that myself. I know people who like to wash dishes by hand. I keep thinking that there's tasks that can't be hedonized. In fact, I used to think that ironing couldn't. And then one of my colleagues, Rebecca Hertzel, as a matter of fact, came up to me at a meeting and said, "Have you heard about ExtremeIroning.com?" And I said, "What?" And she said, "ExtremeIroning, you know, just go there, you'll see what I mean." And sure enough, it's hedonized ironing. Now, these people are not really, well, I mean, you could say they're ironing, you know how, you were, some of us, maybe not you, but some of us were taught in home economics class, in my case, how to iron a man's shirt. You start with the yoke, you know, you iron that, and then, boy, I'm going, now I'm going to have trouble remembering. Then I think you do the side with the buttons, the front side of the buttons, then the side with the buttonholes, then the sleeves, and the collar is last. Well, this orthodox of shirt ironing is the rules now of the sport. Sport of extreme ironing. Now, if it makes the Olympics in my lifetime, I'll be very impressed. But it's already pretty, pretty amazing. There's an outfit in Britain called Rowenta that makes irons and they sponsor an annual extreme ironing contest. And the one I have in the book, the example I have in the book, is the Wolfberg Cracks in South Africa, these huge canyons, well, this guy's got himself, and these are interesting, it's mostly guys, this guy has got himself suspended on a tight wire between the Wolfberg Cracks and on his, he's got a harness holding him onto the wire and standing on, he's got the ironing board on his feet and he's ironing this shirt over the Wolfberg Cracks. He was the 2003 winner of the Rowenta Trophy for extreme ironing.
They've got scuba ironers, they've got polar ironers, I can't remember what they all--oh, excuse me, they're called ironists. Ironists. There're like people standing on top of, you know, those very tall signs that they have on freeway gas stations, people, like a whole group of them up there ironing. That's extreme ironing. So you can't tell what's going to be next. Might be washing dishes, cleaning the oven. You know, I have an oven that cleans itself, right? So, you know, there may be people 20 years from now who, "Oh, I just got to get myself some EasyOff so that I can, and a pair of gloves and boy, I'm going to go after my oven, it'll be so much fun!"
Recorded on December 14, 2009
Interviewed by Austin Allen