Attachment and labelling and everyday things

I just read this while meant to be doing something else, so I’m making a quick note to myself before getting back to work. Turning objects into addressable things with URLs and RFIDs and persistant identities is more possible now than ever, and lots of designers have been excited about it for a while. But is this a healthy thing? Don’t we fetishise and worship and reify things enough? Islam teaches that we don’t properly own anything, that we borrow any object we use from God. Buddhism spends most of its time showing you how attachment leads to suffering: most ethical systems will point out that worrying too much about material things and ownership is a step backwards. But that particular post seemed to me to represent a desire to make a possession even more of a possession.

Wouldn’t it be nice if these properly-made things were only sold to collectives, instead of being made into fetish objects for individual brand junkies? Even the “contract” between the owner and the eventual inheritor is speaking the middle-class aspirational heirloom language of Patek Phillippe (whose slogan was something like “you don’t own a Patek Phillippe watch, you merely look after it for the next generation”), belying the carefully homespun outdoorsyness of the brand: it’s for you, then your kin, not for anyone else. It’s wonderful to think that something’s being made with thought and consideration of how to use materials best: it’s depressing to think their message seems to be mainly about one person hanging on to it for longer.

I am of course being monstrously unfair to the post’s author (fortunately very few people read this and most of them would take his side over mine), and the explicit point of the post was to talk about the product having a story, not the person. And if the story ends up being about how many people the bag’s helped, or where its different owners have taken it, I’m wrong and I’ll enjoy reading it. Though I guess that would mean leaving the username and password of the tumblelog in the bag (how could a thing log itself in to a web service?). I think I just get a bit bored by stories from corporates that seem radical and positive and end up helping people to reinforce the consumption and product fetishisation habits that got us in trouble in the first place. I suppose if I need to carry something maybe I could work on having enough friends to borrow a bag from, if I really want to be sustainable?

Stinking hippy. Not going that far. And I spent a lot of money on a bag that I hope lasts me a long time myself. But I didn’t pay extra for being told it would last: I just tried to buy something that was well-made.

Not even going to start thinking about how sad it is that making a product that doesn’t instantly fall apart is a design event that commands such astonishing prices.

Off chest, back to work.

One thought on “Attachment and labelling and everyday things

  1. I think you make a good counter-argument to Russell’s post, and I agree with pretty much everything you’ve said.

    To be optimistic about what Howies are doing, hopefully it’s a first step away from the “never mind the quality, look at the price” mentality that seems to have infused the world for the past decade or so.

    Then maybe we can move towards more of a sharing/borrowing model for things. I think that’s a good idea, but personally it’s got a way to go to get past the convenience and lack of problems with things getting damaged that owning stuff has.

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