Man's technology has progressed further in the past 50 years than in all the years before. How, then, to explain the toaster.

I can think of no other universally available modern device, which underperforms in every way its ancestors.

In the 50's an electric toaster was a very simple machine with no moving parts, complete flexibility, and unlimited life expectancy. Flip back the doors, lay the bread in front of the wire elements, and toast to taste. To be sure, vigilance was required to prevent a charcoal fire. A little practice almost guaranteed toasted bread or muffins as you like them.

It all started with the pop-up enhancement. Toasters became the most unreliable, unpredictable, infuriating appliance ever.

No matter where you set the light to dark adjustment, no two toastings are the same. It is not uncommon to wait five minutes for an English muffin to pop up white. There is no way to check without releasing the popper, which means starting the cycle over again. This often guarantees incineration.

In recent years the bottled water carriers - environmentalists - have imposed energy conservation constraints on the toaster makers, by giving you the option of activating the element on only one side.

One slice on the wrong side won't toast at all, as each element must be turned on separately. Inevitably the arrow is pointing in the wrong direction, which is really upsetting when you are running to catch a train.

The size and shape of toasters has everything to do with style and nothing to do with common sense. The large, fat, oversized retro models barely hold two slices. Those with slots wide enough for bagels can't handle toast. Most four slice models can't be stored anywhere.

As toasters increased in price, toasting time increased exponentially. For most models English muffin extraction requires a probe with the very real risk of electrocution if you don't remember to unplug the unit. Few folks are disciplined enough to pull the plug as most have been trying to spear muffins for years.

There are commercial units, which pass multiple slices through an element on a conveyor belt with up to a dozen trays. These brutes are no more dependable than a slot machine as there is no consistency in pay out, which accounts for the fact that no restaurant ever honors a request for degree of toasting preference. They just don't have the equipment capable of consistently delivering your request, be it well done or lightly toasted.

I often suspect waiters enjoy their patron's obvious disappointment at the restaurant's failure. Few people have the fortitude to return toast. The chances for success are no better the second time around and by then the eggs are cold.

We are capable of guiding a missile with pinpoint accuracy half way around the world. When it comes to toasters and toasting, we are still squatting around the proverbial campfire. What the world needs is a see through unit and someone willing to watch it.