As if nothing is safe anymore, we now have to be concerned not only with the food we keep on the insides of our refrigerators, but on the magnets we use on the outside. The Federal Consumer Product Safety Commission warned in November 2006 that children who swallow the newer, more powerful “rare earth” magnets may be at risk of injury or even death, since the magnets can squeeze digestive tracts. Further, a Swiss study suggests that these powerful magnets may interfere with the functioning of pacemakers and other electronic devices (but only if you come too close).
Americans without young children can use the new refrigerator magnets with impunity, while those with kids in the house have to settle for the weaker variety, which don’t have much holding power. It’s a hard habit to break. A new residence doesn’t seem to be home until you put the magnets on the refrigerator. Magnets turn a refrigerator into a true family communications center. They help exhibit family photos, children’s artwork, shopping lists, comic strips. In themselves, they can serve as valuable pictorial souvenirs of vacations, or even political statements.
The magnet shaped like an automobile helps us find the telephone number of the nearest auto repair shop, the light bulb magnet the electrician, the house-shaped magnet the real estate agent who sends us a different reminder every year. It’s nice to know that the magnet with emergency telephone numbers—police, fire, and ambulance—is up there, even if we never need to use it. A very popular refrigerator magnet variety spouts the warning “Danger” or “Don’t Open Me” to remind us that the contents of the refrigerator should be accessed only with some restraint.
For those poets among us who need a little help, the imprinted word magnets sold at bookshops facilitate our expression, allow us humor, even help us to diagnose our psychiatric disturbances. The magnetic dress-up dolls and museum prints give us further areas of cultural exploration, all without opening the refrigerator. Magnetic food timers, day-of-the-week planning guides, mirrors, picture frames, and three-dimensional musical representations of Elvis and nearly everything else, leave us with difficult choices in how to use scarce appliance real estate.