Monday, November 27, 2006

making ordinary things ordinary

Why can't things just be made in an ordinary way anymore?

Why the death of appliances in favor of more complicated lives?

As I look into buying a new computer this Winter, most of my search is consumed with everything but the computer. Warranty, customer support, security, software...blah blah blah. For my computer to be any use to me for any length of time, I have to become enmeshed in all of this other crap. I have to be willing to give up some measure of my freedom, my peace of mind, my personal preference and always my anonymity.

And that's what they want.

Products don't just do what they do anymore. Ownership isn't a simple good faith transaction. Purchasing is merely the entry point into the global consumer network. It is the hook to reel you in.

When I seek to own, I am allowing others to have some ownership over my future life; in a very direct way, ownership of my identity and credit information; indirectly, onwership over my future buying decisions as I am steered by keeping my "stuff" current and usable while the market creates obsolescence pressure.

Electronics, clothing, food...all of these products offer the same lure.

Everytime I see a new housing development go up with a strip mall with the same stores and the same products, I see the power of being a participant in brand and ownership. In the macro, the companies I lend my business to turn those dollars toward ways of reducing competition, edging out smaller, local, independent producers and then ultimately telling me what products I will buy and at what price once the market is devoid of competitors.

The title of this post is taken from a William Gibson blog of this weekend. Making ordinary things ordinary is all about having to make choices to have ordinary things in one's life. And having to make an extraordinary effort to have that lifestyle.

It is all one, whether we are talking about eating locally to preserve a culture and lifestyle of local, artisinal foods and growers, or we are talking about buying a shirt that is made by someone whose goal is to make a shirt as it should be, not to make a simulacra of a shirt as cheaply and quickly as can be.

That may seem like an abstract idea until we step back and question what it means to savor a great meal or luxuriate in a soft fabric. When we step back and ask those questions about what kind of life experiences are satisfying, then we can start making conscious choices about how to enable them.

Here is what Gibson has to say and then follow the link to read about Loopwheeler shirts. The idea of them is very attractive. And I imagine the effort to own them, costly.

posted 3:39 PM

I've never seen a Loopwheeler sweatshirt, but this tour of their manufacturing process has me sold.

Such a perfectly simple philosophy, yet how difficult (indeed, how splendidly impractical) it is to actually produce such "ordinary" things. But "ordinary" in this sense means something like "the things of which most other things have become simulacra". Almost all denim jeans, for instance, are now simulacra of "ordinary" denim jeans, which have become almost impossible to find (as new product). The simulacra-ization of jeans now means that the "distressing" process (faking the result of "ordinariness" + wear) probably takes longer than the actual manufacturing, something I find quite spooky. The downside of making something in the "ordinary" way is that the "ordinary" product winds up being quite expensive, by virtue of how genuinely difficult it is to make -- though still not as expensive as high-end "designer" products that we're expected to pay a great deal for by virtue of their supposed remarkable unordinariness. Yet the "ordinary" garment invariably possesses a higher literal unordinariness quotient. The odds of your finding the "ordinary" at the mall are nil, and there aren't even any Loopwheeler products on eBay today (I just checked).


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