Who we are

Having some time to kill this afternoon and pondering the idea of getting curtains for my apartment, I made a loop around a “home stuff” store, full of all the kinds of things people use to furnish, decorate, and equip their homes.  Being in a meditative, evaluative frame of mind, I found myself looking at things in light of what they say about us, we modern people whom this store has been created for.

Softness and ease are highlighted everywhere.  Extra-plush towels and blankets.  Every manner of gadget to simplify every sort of individual task.  Skill is undervalued.  Comfort is highly valued.

I walked by a display with keyring breathalyzers, if I read them correctly on a quick look.  Small, personal gadgets to measure blood alcohol levels, designed to be attached and carried around with that most personal item, one’s set of keys.  I’m not at all sure what to make of this one; are ideas like “when in doubt, stop drinking” and “when in doubt, don’t drive a car” and “stick with friends who will help you not be stupid, in spite of yourself if necessary” really in such short supply?

Thinking about a desk mug-warmer makes me sad and frustrated on several levels.  I’m talking about the sort of little hot-plate arrangement that is primarily (maybe only) used in offices and cubicles, designed to set a mug of coffee or tea on and keep it warm.  What does it say about modern work, that it is accepted fact people may not have time to drink a whole mug of something warm before it gets cold — that they can’t take the time away to enjoy a warm drink?  What does it say about us, that we invent a device that consumes electricity in order to endlessly warm up a drink that we are not paying attention to anyway, mindlessly consuming our way through our workdays?

You could get claustrophobia, walking through this store.  Products stacked literally to the ceiling.  I walked by a store clerk perched on top of a very tall ladder, paging someone else through her walkie-talkie-esque pager thingy to come and help get something heavy down from the top of its stack, 20 feet up in the air.  Maximize space; cram in as many sellables as possible, however you can.

I stood for a while in the rug department, looking up a beautiful patterned rugs hung on the walls, and thought about how wealthy the world is, to have such things as available and inexpensive as they are, due to modern textile manufacturing.  I think now about how we have lost so much of the art of making beautiful, individual rugs and every other sort of textile product, art to drape ourselves and our homes in — we make ourselves wealthy in one way, and impoverish ourselves in another.

On the way out of the story, at the end of one of the cash register displays, was the thing that made me write about all of this.  It was a cheap plastic gadget configured like a set of pliers, except with a half-sphere on the end of each handle, like two ice-cream scoops set facing each other.  Squeeze the handles together, and the semi-spheres close together to make a hollow fist-sized ball.

It was branded as a device for making perfect snowballs.

I am so flabbergasted at the idea, I can’t even begin to write out all of the things that are wrong with this.  What kind of a people are we, that this product was ever conceived of, designed, and produced?

What kind of a people have we become — have we made ourselves into?

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1 comment so far

  1. janet on

    The desktop mug-warmer – so horribly true.


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