Disposable culture sucks. An affluent society all too readily adopts a psychological grieving at point of purchase. Death is part of consumption. And with shorter and shorter shelf lives around products, especially ‘technological ‘ products our sense of technological mortality is shortening too. Producers such as Sony of course are very good at designing for death.. planning obsolescence with innovation around new functionality, new materials, new forms of encoding make previous versions obsolete despite the often questionable ‘advances’ made.
The economics of death in the UK mean that it’s more costly to repair a product or adapt it for further use than it is to buy afresh. And that’s what I find so fascinating about Jan Chipchase’s ethnography, his visual diary of material cultures, primarily Asian material cultures, where the economics of death are often so different. Cheap skilled labour kick start products back to life with all manner of home made ‘defibrillators’. In the process they innovate – they re-build, fix, hack and ‘make’ anew. Old products are given new leases of life or adapted to a new form of use. It’s bottom up technological Darwinism, reacting to the needs of the market and ‘translating’ relationships between people and things. And it’s wonderful.
Contrast this ecosystem of ‘informal’ innovation and re-creation with the staid, planned product market we have. In this context you can see how hacker culture and in particular ‘Make’ has come to symbolise a rebellion against technological redundancy – the new hippies – as developers and ‘doers’ in the affluent society realise that psychologically it’s far better to make life than to slowly feel it dying in your possession, however qualitatively inferior’ it may be.
What would it take to make the economics of death different in the UK? Are petrochemical products going to increase in price sufficiently to make re-use and re-invention more cost effective? Have we sufficient supply of skills to do the work cheaply?
You can tell I’m on a downer today. I really hope the sun shines tomorrow or I fear nihilism will set in and another doom laden post will arrive.