a story of stuff

“I have been through hundreds of towns and cities in every climate and against every kind of scenery, and of course they are all different, and the people have points of difference, but in some ways they are alike. American cities are like badger holes, ringed with trash, surrounded by piles of wrecked automobiles, and almost smothered with rubbish. Everything we use comes in boxes, cartons, bins, the so-called packaging we love so much. The mountains of things we throw away are much greater than the things we use. In this, if in no other way, we can see the wild and reckless exuberance of our production, and waste seems to be the index.”

– John Steinbeck, Travels With Charley

Two interesting videos about stuff. First, the Story of Stuff, “a 20-minute, fast-paced, fact-filled look at the underside of our production and consumption patterns.” Aimed at kids, but what that really means is that everything is said very simply and directly. Definitely a liberal point of view. I’m of two minds about the political spin – if they had toned that down, maybe there’d be more of a chance it would be played in more classrooms.

Second, a TED Talk featuring Jan Chipcase, who talks about cellphones and calling cards being used (and importantly, reused) as a method of transfering and loaning money with interest. He makes the distinction between the stuff that we own, carry, and use. In developing countries, a whole industry has sprung up involved in fixing cellphones and other electronics. It’s pretty telling that when I take my cheap phone or shoes or printer to a repair shop and ask for it to be fixed, the repair guy inevitably asks me why I don’t just buy a new one. Well, isn’t it obvious? Because I already own this one!

On a positive note though, I did run into a branch of the Berkeley tool lending library. (There’s also a version in Oakland.) You need a tool, you borrow it from the library instead of buying it from Home Depot for one project and then letting it sit in the garage. This could work for some types of toys and sports equipment – instead of a garage sale or hand me downs, just donate to the local toy library. This would solve the problem of kids getting bored with toys a week after you’ve bought them, and you’d only buy them if the kids break them. It seems pretty obvious – to avoid having housefuls of stuff, just share some commonly used things within a community. Why should a library be limited to books and media? Sort of like Zipcar.

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~ by Jin on September 6, 2009.

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