James Lileks
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Last week, Gallup released a poll that said that 90% of Americans describe themselves as "happy." I'll bet they all have Instant Pots. Those are supposed to change your life, right?

But the Instant Pot we bought did not change our lives. I think I was the first to admit it, and I brought the matter up to my wife one day. "Let's be honest. That sense of adventure, of excitement, the idea that a whole new world of pressure-enabled cooking was opening up before us — it hasn't panned out, has it?"

We talked it through and hugged it out. But it nagged at me for a while. The Instant Pot was a highly touted, high-tech gadget, and it had failed to provide lasting happiness. Was it our fault? I mean, it didn't seem to make life more rapturous or thrilling. And it was Bluetooth-enabled! It had an app, for heaven's sake, but our lives didn't seem to change a bit.

Cooks with pressure? If that's the case, why doesn't my wife come home from a stressful day of work with an internal temperature of 185 degrees?

This got me thinking: What if the entire premise of modern consumerism was overstated, and new electronic devices don't actually provide anything more than momentary novelty?

Let's take a quick look at some other tech innovations designed to distract us from the fact of our mortality.

Last week, the tech press announced that future versions of the iPhone will allow us to unlock and start the car. This means that one day we will be unable to get home because our phone is dead, and we'll have to call Triple A to come and jump the phone.

There also was a report that "drive-by hackers" sitting outside your house in a black van can take control of your home network by worming in through your "smart" light bulbs. "Smart" in this case meaning dumber than a dog, who at least would bark at the van.

The solution is to keep everything updated. After I read about the light hack, I checked my system and discovered that the bulbs had not been updated since 2018. The app warned me that it might take up to an hour for each bulb. An hour? Are the bulbs downloading the entire Library of Congress?

But it's great to say, "Turn on all the lights," and have the phone respond, "OK." Which is always followed by, "Some of your devices aren't responding," because someone turned off a light manually, like we are Neanderthals in a cave.

But at least we know how to use the smart lights. Not so the Instant Pot. We couldn't figure it out, thanks to its inscrutable interface. I'm reasonably good at tech — I build websites and home media servers — but this thing, oy. The instructions looked like this:

"Emplacen the lid 16 degrees counterclockwise while Steam Setting is on the Off position, then press down with both hands while ensuring the Cooking Time setting is off the On position. WARNING: Failure to seat the parts correctly may result in Explosion. Remove small children to another state."

I suspect that the device could kill us, unlike, say, a blender, which, at best, will only eat a few fingers before you rethink whatever you're doing.

Which reminds me of the air fryer. I got it for my wife at Christmas, and she was skeptical: "Thanks, but how much fried air do you think we really consume?"

"No, no," I insisted. "It's great. Five stars on Amazon. It's the latest thing. It uses hot air to cook food! Doesn't that sound healthy? Air. Carb-free, cholesterol-free air."

A month into using the air fryer, it has proved that the purchase of a new gadget can, indeed, change everything. There's a lilt in my step, a sparkle in my eye because I no longer suffer from limp, flaccid fries.

The other day, I let someone zipper merge in front of me without thinking, "You cut in line, and we all know it, and you're probably from New Jersey" because I knew my air fryer would shave 2 minutes off the cooking time for chicken when I made dinner. I might even overpay my taxes this year, because the ease of making breaded cauliflower is just that amazing.

So, yes, a gadget can change your life for the better, in long-lasting and meaningful ways. If you'll excuse me, I want to go watch an infomercial on air fryer cookery and how to make delicious dinners in a snap!

Update: I wish my TV was bigger. I thought it was huge when I got it, but there are bigger ones now. Now I'm unhappy again.

Maybe an air fryer that controls my lights will help.

james.lileks@startribune.com • 612-673-7858 • Twitter: @Lileks • facebook.com/james.lileks