Alice Jones: Switch off your brain, your plate is about to speak

IHMO: Talking plates don't fit well with the Government's much-trumpeted "nudge theory"
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Has the NHS gone a bit 1984? First there were reports of hospital patients being unable to switch off an emetic welcome message from the Health Secretary Andrew Lansley, playing on a loop on their bedside monitors. One way of speeding up patient turnover, I suppose. Now the NHS has revealed its solution to the obesity crisis – a £1,500 talking plate.

The Mandometer is a scale which monitors the rate at which food is disappearing from your plate. If users are eating too quickly – research has shown that guzzlers are 84 per cent more likely to be overweight – a computerised voice tells them to slow down. A small screen also flashes up helpful messages like: "Are you feeling full yet?"

How ... weird. I wonder if there are different voice options available, a la sat-nav – a scolding schoolmarm or nagging nanny, perhaps – so users can switch off their brains and proceed through life wholly guided by a familiar-sounding autopilot.

With a quarter of UK adults now classified as obese (a figure expected to rise to 40 per cent over the next decade), something needs to be done. But is electronic nanny crockery the answer? It's certainly at odds with the Government's much-trumpeted "nudge theory", which coaxes people to change their ways rather than vetoing their behaviour outright. It's also slick, expensive gimmickry masquerading as long-term, well-thought-out reform in the areas – health education, school meals, improved exercise facilities – which might make a difference when it comes to defusing this lumbering time bomb.

* Rage against the machine. Or, in my case, rage against the forgotten username and password. Vast swathes of my day are spent swearing and typing as I try to remember how to log in to the various gadgets and accounts I use to (apparently) streamline my life. There's my iPhone passcode; the three passwords on my work computer; voicemail and banking pins; log-ons to email, Facebook, Twitter and newspaper websites; and registrations for theatre box offices, airlines and Amazon accounts. All require fiendish permutations of my name, surname, initials, email addresses, cat's name, house number, date of birth, parents' phone number, ex-boyfriend's birthday etc. Having been warned, repeatedly, of the dangers of hacking and identity theft, I try to vary my codes from account to account but it seems I've been far too diligent. An internet security firm has revealed that the four most common online passwords are "password", "123456", "12345678" and – for supremely lazy typists – "qwerty". And yet, no sign of digital Armageddon. Could it be that the economy fritters away far more money in time wasted on trying to remember, then recover, forgotten passwords than it does on rescuing the odd hacked account? From now on, qwerty it is.

* As all eyes turn to London for the Olympics next year, the art world has chosen its team captain. Enter Damien Hirst, whose career-long ribbing of the establishment has seen him rewarded with a major retrospective at Tate Modern next summer.

The sniping started instantly – why is a state-funded institution boosting the prices of our richest artist? How much of our taxes will be spent on security for that sparkly skull? Why doesn't he paint landscapes?

I won't be joining in. I can't wait to see the pickled shark, the £50m skull and other greatest hits together in one place, so I can judge with my own eyes – along with thousands of others who have never seen the work before – whether he's genius or joker.

Indeed, whether I, or anyone else, thinks it's good art, or even likes it, is immaterial. Hirst is probably our only living artist with Olympian pulling power. The supercilious carping brings to mind a limited edition tea-towel I spotted recently, on sale in a gallery shop for the Hirstian sum of £35. Its slogan read simply: "Modern Art = I could do that + Yeah, but you didn't".