Tuesday, April 10, 2007

filled to the brim

The advancement of technology (and the parallel acceleration of the market economy) seems to be attempting to atomize everything from solid and monolithic to heterogeneous honeycombs. Everything that modern production touches is made less substantial and more complex. This is done in the name of sustainability and affordability and usability, and all of these abilities are great, but when one is taking toll of their physical presence in life, instead of a solid oak table with a brass lamp we have powdercoated aluminum and PTFE. It's not terribly original (and quite reactionary to boot) to bemoan the lost of "honest" materiality, but this abrupt change in the stuff of our existence is a little to pervasive to be unacknowledged. To my mind, it's the difference between standing on firm ground and shifting sand; the very reality of our surroundings is being challenged not only by allusion and mass production, but by the occult nature of the material itself. To not see the link between an object and its source is to lose a little bit of everyday poetry.

This is not to say that I need a rough-hewn iPod. Like i said, a sustainable and high-tech future is going to rely heavily on composites and advanced forms of production. But why is everything proprietary? I'd like to know what is in my plastics and alloys, no matter how complicated. What country does it come from? Who made it? What was left over? Anyone who doubts the intrinsic emotional value in this kind of data has only to go to any consumer product-rating website: we are obsessed with our stuff. We want to know every detail about our purchases, not only from an accountability standpoint (will this coffee maker give me thyroid cancer?) but because we are in love with our things. This is not the evils of advanced capitalism, this is human nature. Think of Excalibur, or the Maltese Falcon, the Holy Grail. Yes, these objects stood for something greater, but they also have faint echoes in every knife, cup and tchochke in existence. All I'm asking is that we forgive the things we own, and maybe get to know them a little better.

No comments: