Our “Single-Use Society” and “Throw-Away Culture”
As I observe the world around me, it is hard to deny that we find ourselves emerged in a throw-away culture and living in a single-use society. Plastic water bottles abound in our daily lives, packaged foods dominate our diets and trends come and go in the blink of an eye. As we all know, this is a huge contributing factor to our global waste and pollution problem; moreover, I believe there are additional far-reaching consequences to our current way of consumerism.
One of my largest worries is that we have lost the value of everyday items in our lives. The mass production & consumption model we currently seem to be operating in does not incentivize, or promote, long-term relationships with most material items in our life. In fact, obsolescence seems to be just a matter of “how soon” these days. In addition, the change from using natural materials (wood, metal, stone) to plastics, in combination with the movement of manufacturing to less-developed countries with cheaper labor and relaxed or no environmental policies, has made most daily material items cheap. VERY, VERY cheap.
Cheap isn’t always good. All of these low-cost items made of sub-par materials have caused us to lower our expectations. It has become commonplace to have a certain amount of breakage or malfunction with what we purchase and soo many of us seem apathetic to this waste of resources and money.
Through decades of “innovation” and outsourcing we have created a form of manufacturing and production that has almost entirely removed the human aspect and element. This has created a separation between ourselves and the items that we buy where there once was a deep value and connection for our resources and materials. Even I can admit that I have a hard time finding respect and value for a lot of junk out there on the market. Therefore, for me, it is very important to spend my money wisely by purchasing high-quality and ethically made products and shopping second-hand when possible. Only we can de-incentivize the making of poor-quality items or products made in ways that negatively impact our environment by not purchasing them. We are the market and therefore we decide what is acceptable or not.
I would also like to make the argument that there has been a “trickle-up” effect that has resulted in the loss of respect for our own selves to some extent. It’s hard to imagine that living in a world of fleeting trends and mass production does not have an effect on our psychology. In the same way that cell phones have resulted in less (and more awkward) social interactions, not being connected to (or valuing) the things around us results in a “who cares” attitude and “we’ll just replace it” mindset. These attitudes eventually infect our feelings about ourselves and the people around us. This has been further compounded by population growth and social media’s new rhetoric of “friending” and “unfriending”, “liking” or “not liking.” It feels as though we have begun to lose connections to ourselves and communities – in both our relationships with people and things. The “human factor” seems all but gone.
When I think about it this way, it reinforces my belief that bringing value back to even the most overlooked daily items can result in bringing meaning and value back into our lives. In a not-too-distant past we once lived near the people who built our furniture, made our soap, and grew our food. We knew whatthese things were made of and wherethey came from. Even when I was a child we brought our broken VCR (yes, VCR) to a local repairman when it was on the fritz. We did not just call it junk and toss it into the rubbish bin. Of course, it was likely that the VCR was made just a bit closer to home and was more expensive than it would be today as its cost reflected the value of better materials and, likely, craftmanship.
All this is to say that, I truly feel, that there is a connection to the dis-connection a lot of people seem to have between each other, material items and the environment. I am confident, and hopeful, that through upcycling (and looking at materials and the world around me in new ways) I can inspire a change in perspective. My plan is to bring value and meaning back to the small things in life… one piece of usable art at a time!