We’re not called consumers for nothing.
What’s the oldest thing you own and regularly use? I don’t mean your house or your Grandma’s old mixing bowl or antique whatnots. I’m talking about consumable stuff: the things that keep the global economy (and us advertising folk) humming along.
For me, it’s a Crumpler bag. It’s about 10 years old and despite nearly a decade of mistreatment, the thing refuses to die. It’s not even close to death: all stitches are intact, the buckles still work, and if I threw it in the washing machine it’d come out looking brand spanking new.
Which, in these times of disposable consumables, is good. Great, even. But here’s the weird thing:
I’m beginning to resent it. Deeply. Because years of being trained to not only accept, but embrace, short lifespans in pretty much everything I buy has left me unable to appreciate something that looks like it’ll outlive not only me, but the last cockroach on the planet.
Since buying that bag, I’ve gone through maybe a dozen mobile phones. Four or five macs. A scary number of sunglasses (no matter how expensive they are, never seem to survive more than a year with me).
The indestructible Crumpler bag has also outlived five iPods, two blenders, an icecream maker, a warehouse full of Ikea, two cordless drills, three cars, four houses and such a huge number of running shoes that I’m scared to count them up, because I suspect the sum total would have bought me a holiday house.
So it should probably come as no surprise that, whenever I buy something, I expect it to wear out in a year or two, allowing me to happily replace it with something new and shiny.
How many perfectly good mobile phones, TV’s and appliances get thrown out every year, because their owners want to ‘upgrade’? I’d guess a lot. Which is just the way Motorola and Sony and Apple want it.
After all, they don’t call us Consumers for nothing.
Then when something weird happens to you (like the Crumpler That Refuses To Die) it throws you a bit. You’re sick of the old Crumpler. You know they have a huge range of cool new bags in all kinds of colours. You’d like to trade up. But there’s something very very WRONG about throwing out a great bag that’s going to live to see its 50th birthday, just because you’re bored with the colour. No, you have to honour this bag, and see things through to the very end.
So you sit there, and sort of hope it just falls apart, or maybe even loses a stitch or two. Any excuse to replace it with a new version of its old self.
But it doesn’t fall apart. And you don’t need two Crumpler bags, so what do you do? You have to re-train yourself to accept that you actually possess something that you may well own for the rest of your life. Which is a fair old mindfuck in the disposable, consumerist age we live in.
It messes with things. Makes you think that maybe there’s something wrong with throwing stuff out just because it looks a bit ragged, or just because they brought out a new version. Which, of course, is absolute heresy and I fully expect the guys at Harvey Norman to hunt me down and re-educate me in some horrible camp in Sydney’s outer West.
The real question is: as we strive to live our lives in a more sustainable way, why don’t we simply make stuff that lasts? This is where the environment and the consumer economy meet in the Cage, and unfortunately the consumer economy is beating the living crap out of its opponent.
Perhaps the world needs more Crumplers.