Chris writes, "To parody the earlier and earlier onset of the holiday shopping season, Betabrand created a video game where St Nick sets out to conquer Halloween. Now that Christmas has overrun Thanksgiving, it's only logical that Santa will set his sights on All Hallow's eve, so that he may turn Black Friday into Black Fall."
In the Boston Globe, Beth Teitell discusses Life at Home in the Twenty-first Century: 32 Families Open their Doors, an accessible, illustrated text that summarizes the research of four archaeologists and anthropologists who did a long, deep study of 32 middle-class LA families, and who report that nearly everything that these families had striven for -- material possessions, good jobs, extracurricular enrichment for their kids -- made them wholly miserable.
The rise of Costco and similar stores has prompted so much stockpiling — you never know when you’ll need 600 Dixie cups or a 50-pound bag of sugar — that three out of four garages are too full to hold cars.
Managing the volume of possessions is such a crushing problem in many homes that it elevates levels of stress hormones for mothers.
Even families who invested in outdoor décor and improvements were too busy to go outside and enjoy their new decks.
Most families rely heavily on convenience foods even though all those frozen stir-frys and pot stickers saved them only about 11 minutes per meal.
A refrigerator door cluttered with magnets, calendars, family photos, phone numbers, and sports schedules generally indicates the rest of the home will be in a similarly chaotic state.
The scientists working with UCLA’s Center on Everyday Lives of Families studied the dual-income families the same way they would animal subjects. They videotaped the activities of family members, tracked their moves with position-locating devices, and documented their homes, yards, and activities with thousands of photographs. They even took saliva samples to measure stress hormones.
I visited my little brother, a dedicated minimalist, last month. In general, I think of myself as not particularly consumerist-y. But hanging out with somebody who is sooo much better at not consuming pointlessly has left me with a lot to think about.
Gadgets are one of the biggest things I've been pondering. This is not, especially, my area of weakness when it comes to consumerism. (That would be landscaping plants, furniture, and kitchenware.) But I did recently get my first smart phone. I have been, lately, complaining about the weight of my old MacBook. And I have been contemplating a new MP3 player. In other words, I'm at a potential buying stage in my slow-moving gadget cycle. Do I need to be, though? And if there is a reason to buy some new stuff, how should I make those choices?
That's probably why Thomas Hayden's essay In Praise of Crap Technology struck a chord with me. In it, Hayden waxes poetic about his $19.99 Coby MP3 player. It's a product that's supposed to suck. It's something you buy reluctantly, when you can't afford an iPod. But, apparently, nobody bothered to let the Coby know about that. It's boring. It's ugly. It doesn't have the latest features. But, as Hayden points out, it's also durable, inexpensive, inherently theft-deterrent, and reliable. It also does exactly what he needs it to do. No less. And no more.
My portable audio technology needs are simple. A few hundred well-chosen—by me, dammit—songs and a half-dozen episodes of the WTF podcast and I’m good to go. My trusty Coby does all that, with an FM radio tuner included. (I do wish it had AM too—the crap technology of the air—but why gripe?) Most important, it’s worth next to nothing so I’m virtually assured never to lose it—unlike apparently every iPhone prototype ever—and I don’t cringe at all when my toddler flings it across the room. And because the next Coby is sure to be just as mediocre, I’ll never need to upgrade—I’ve stepped off the escalators of feature creep and planned obsolescence, and all the expense and toxic e-waste that come with them. Crap technology, it turns out, is green technology.
Now that's a damn good point. Granted, crap technology can be dirty if it's actually crap—something you're going to have to throw out and replace every year. But it's nice to get this reminder that there's a lot of room between crap-that's-actually-crap and the-newest-most-expensive-thing. That grey zone is home to Hayden's Coby.
It's also home to the Sansa Clip my husband and I have shared for half a decade. It's now outlasted two iPods—one that was lost/stolen and another with a faulty battery. Where those more-coveted gadgets failed, the Sansa came through. And it's stuff like this that brings up an important question I need to ask myself more often: What makes "crap" crap?
I've been pretty proud of my ability to resist the constant-upgrade/early-adopter treadmill. But maybe I need to be less smug about that. Because, until I really thought about how good the Sansa Clip has been to me, I was thinking about replacing it with an iPod. And there's not really a point to that. Because I already own good technology. It's just a piece of good technology that happens to be "crap".