Tag Archives: planned obsolescence

Archeology and Waste

? For some reason, even though I checked, WordPress did not publish this. A glitch in the system? Here is what was supposed to be Wednesday’s entry.

When archeologists dig around looking for artifacts there are several places that become treasure troves. Obviously where cities once were, and more, houses will relinquish many items of eras past. Various places that served as guildhouses or factories will have pieces that were considered of  inferior quality, or flawed some way. But the best place of all  to find treasures are the midden heaps.

These were the garbage piles, sometimes the leftovers of the latrines and garderobes. Castle toilets often just open from above with the waste falling down to a festering pile below. Some had troughs built and some might have been contained. But the best way to keep the stench down was to let some air in, even if the stench was below on the ground. Unwanted items and refuse went into various midden heaps. Garbage yes, but something worn out, something no longer wanted. Of course in the centuries past, possessions were hard won, made by hand and expensive to the common person.

A piece of clothing would be worn until it fell apart and usable pieces would be incorporated into newer garments, if they were salvageable. Utensils and dishes would be used through generations until they broke or wore out. Then they would be tossed on the midden heap. And of course, people have always lost things. Those who could afford a higher level of affluence would eventually toss out or pass to their servants an item they no longer wanted.

Our midden heaps of today are  landfills and garbage dumps. But whereas of old usually only the most worn out items would ended up in the dumps, now we have a plethora of discarded things. A thousand years from now, should humanity not have completely depleted resources and polluted the planet, there will be archeologists digging in our midden heaps.

This weekend I spent an hour going through my trough of pens, finding the ones that worked, unscrewing the ones that could be taken apart and trying refills in them. Not one of my refills fit these pens and though they say refillable we often just throw out the pen that has died. So yes, archeologists will find pens but perhaps fewer and fewer as they move up through the strata, indicating our greater dependence on electronic media. Yet, at home I have a glass calligraphic pen (Venetian), other calligraphy pens that use nibs to be dipped in ink or come with a cartridge, as well as ballpoints,  felt pens and pencils. I don’t use them as often as I once did but I do still use pens.

Our middens will contain numerous paper clips and pennies. Was any coin considered so beneath notice in Roman times or Rennaisance Italy? No wonder some places want to eliminate the penny (and make more money as a result). I’m sure there will be numerous hangers of wood, plastic and metal. These are the tiny items, along with buttons and zippers after the fabric has corroded away, that will litter our landfills.

Plastics eventually grow brittle and crack, breaking down and in a thousand years would only be evident if buried. So there will be some containers buried deeply, leeched of color and symbols. Glass of course perseveres for centuries so our dishes will still be there to check out. Clothing as stated, will deteriorate quickly, if it’s natural fiber but the polyester blends and synthetic-made-from-plastic-bags polar fleece will stick around a bit longer, though it’s still a plastic and will break down, even if it does take a long time.

And then there are the TVs, stereos, fridges, cars, phones, digital this and that’s and computers. Hundreds of thousands of computers. Archeologists will probably judge rightful conclusions from the fact that the midden heaps will be festooned with TVs and computers. And those conclusions will be that we were a wasteful society, that somehow these things gave out quickly (planned obsolescence–the worst idea to hit the last two centuries), that we needed them to survive or that we were a leisure society bent on possessions.

Well, yes, there it is. Waste not, want not. And unfortunately we waste a lot and want a lot, and our wastage will continue to leech into soil and water. Heavy metals, radioactive materials, plastics–they’re all changing our environments and if you wonder why were developing more and severe allergies, this is why.

But in essence, the future will be filled with archeologists trying to figure out what ran our society, what was prevalent, what was popular and cheap. Whether they’ll come away with that we were an affluent, decadent, careful or conservationist society will be in the making of each layer. I hope it’ll be evident before a thousand years have gone by that we started to change before it was too late.

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T’is the Season…

…for gross consumerism. Once upon a time it used to be that Christmas began in December and actually meant something spiritual. (I’m picking on the Christian, sort of, holiday because I don’t know if other faiths go mass market this time of year.) Then stores decided it was best to put out all the seasonally afflicted merchandise at the beginning of the month. Soon, it seemed like a smart thing to put out the holiday decorations right after US Thanksgiving. Get all the turkey, fall and feasting goods done with, then there is room on the shelves for the next festivity. But someone decided that Thanksgiving wasn’t big enough or didn’t dent the shelves with related crap, so Christmas decorations and lights and cards started coming out after Hallowe’en. We’re now two months before Christmas and that hasn’t been enough. This year, I saw Christmas related crapola in stores in September. Soon, we’ll have it year round.

This frantic marketing makes me less seasonally cheerful and downright grumpy. A festive occasion is just that, an occasion, not a year-long extravaganza. It takes the specialness of the time away when one is inundated with the same driveling songs for months, though I notice that the stores do hold off on the tunes or their employees would go postal. But seeing the ho ho ho bits and garlands and cards and hats and stockings and lights etc. really kills the feeling for me.

But what is at the root of all this? Obviously it’s greed, and probably the whole fear around the economy has whipped store execs into a froth where they’re pushing everything onto shelves early. Buy buy buy, more more more. Make it super duper very bright, large and festive and red and green. It’s enough to make all the reindeer drink until their noses are red.

The problem is that our society is based on a consumerism that is supposed to always grow. Sell more cars, sell more clothes, sell more everything or we can’t get bonuses and more money to buy more stuff. What happens when the quantity stays the same in consumer purchases? Take cars for example. You can’t price them out of everyone’s pocketbook, but there’s another way around it. Make them so they don’t last as long. A Model T Ford could run for fifty years but we’re lucky now if we get cars that make it to ten years. Planned obsolescence. Printers are the same. They cost less than a hundred bucks to buy but the ink cartridges that you have to keep using (and therefore should be cheaper because of mass consumption) are $60-$80. Not because ink is that expensive but because the company has to make money. Some printers are designed to eat ink every time you turn them on so feasibly you could use up a cartridge without printing a page (I got rid of that one fairly quickly.)

What happens when we have enough, when growth stays the same? Or what happens when the baby boomers stop buying and the next gen buys less? Panic. Maybe the economy fireworks didn’t have to happen right now but it was bound to happen sooner or later. I thankfully, have only worked for one company where “grow grow grow” was their motto mixed with a lack of understanding people. People left on stress leave and others were walked out the door almost regularly. I hear this company was bought by a company wich was bought by a company and that more changes are happening. I’d rather slide down razor blades into a vat of vinegar than work there again.

So be prepared. Those Boxing Day sales have become Boxing week sales and pre-Christmas/Boxing week sales. They’re about to become Christmas month sales and yet there will be more and more and more stuff. Costco has mass Santa suits that you can buy for cheap. Now every little Santa will look the same. How sweet. And if you think that Santa at the North Pole is kept busy with all his elves working over time because of the mass merchandising, think again. The little fellas have been laid off to cut costs and because everything was farmed out to a third world nation where the kids get to toil for twenty hours a day. Ho ho ho, enjoy the consumerism.

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