A Canadian book blog: Publishing, marketing, books and technology from a Canadian perspective

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Made to Break Makes the Globe and Mail

Heather Menzies, author of No Time: Stress and the Crisis of Modern Life, wrote a very positive review of Giles Slades’ book Made to Break in Saturday’s Globe and Mail. She starts by saying “Giles Slade has produced a riveting piece of cultural history to explain the veritable mushroom cloud of electronic waste threatening our planet, while hinting suggestively at why the public seems so detached from the crisis and even its role in creating it.”

She goes on to give a great summary of the narrative path Giles takes through consumer obsolescence: paper shirt fronts, the Yankee (a cheap pocket watch that ran for a limited time), razor blades, rubbers, santitary napkins, Flapper-era extravagance, seasonal fashion, yearly automobile model changes, death dating components, cell phones, tvs, bikinis, and basically all the things we’ve invented that generate more and more waste.

One of Menzies’ best observances of Made to Break is that “it’s troubling enough to consider that planet-exhausting and even planet-poisoning obsolescence is implicitly institutionalized at the highest levels of business and government leadership in the United States” (I’d include Canada, Great Britain and the rest of the first world) but “more troubling still is how we, the general consuming pulic, are wrapped up in it in a way that almost guarantees we won’t sense the connection.”

Al Gore’s film An Inconvenient Truth forces its audience to look at the connections between human activity and global warming. Giles Slades’ book Made to Break forces its audience to remember all the times that greed and economics have trumped responsible citizenship. The throwaway culture we live in means that we love the new iPod, the new Nokia phone, HD tv, we want and demand more, smaller, faster, better, but to what end.

We’ve allowed, in fact encouraged, shorter and shorter life cycles for products, to the point where it has become cheaper to produce something new rather than to tear down, re-purpose or recycle the old. The economics of our creativity has meant good things for business but bad things for the planet.

If you’re into saving the world, consider the reasons why you’ve bought a new car, a new computer, a new cell phone—at what point did we start accepting such rapid obsolescence of products?—but also consider how often you buy new shoes,  new pens, new razors, new boxes of cereal, anything that is packaged and which gets thrown away.

The idea is to move from the ethic of discarding to the ethic of durability. Our challenge is to encourage advancement and innovation while not contributing to landfills. Can we do it?

Commenting is not available in this weblog entry.