Lately, with my city covered in ice and snow, I've been thinking about how the world has become measurably crappier in recent years. Nowhere is this more evident than in the sharp decline of consumer product quality. Tools. Tech. Furniture. Fashion. In these areas and pretty much everywhere else, disposable junk is now the norm. Here's an in-depth Vox article about the phenomenon.
Responding to this in meaningful ways is nearly impossible. The right-to-repair movement is great and I support it, but this movement relies on convincing politicians to force companies to do better, which rarely works out for average people. Right-to-repair also does not capture the vast majority of products people buy. Consider Bic lighters. Just ten years ago, one of these lasted me 2-3 months. Now, I'm lucky to get three weeks out of one. And that's just the tip of a horrifying iceberg.
Everywhere I look, I see stuff that was manufactured to be junk. Like, a bunch of smart people got together and raised money and produced garbage, intentionally. Millions of groups of people have done this, and they continue to do so. This garbage is in consumer hands only briefly. Most of its life cycle is spent being produced by processes that pollute ecosystems, then being landfilled or incinerated, which further pollutes ecosystems. It's sheer madness.
This madness of the status quo does something to individuals' psychology. It installs false comparisons in our value systems and robs us of the experiences we need to even know what quality consists of. It degrades the material structure of our reality, making it increasingly difficult to care about anything. It's hard to argue with apathy when the only thing that's accessible to us is garbage.
The weirdest part is that almost no one seems to grasp how crappy their world has become. They can't tell the difference between a hand-stitched leather backpack and something glued together by child slaves from oil-derived synthetics. This absence of discernment extends to all areas of life. I find it particularly galling in the area of food.
Last week, I went to a reputable restaurant in an affluent suburb for a family gathering. Their specialty was sushi, so I ordered some nigiri. What I received was quite lame. Looking at my salmon and tuna, I couldn't tell if the fish had gone bad, or if it had merely been cut incorrectly. My dad went with plain sashimi and encountered similar issues. But no one else in our party of twenty seemed to notice that the food sucked, because the place was so 'upscale.' I'm surprised no one got sick.
That restaurant wasn't nice. It was fake nice. Just like most name brand clothes and the vinyl flooring at Menards. Just like new Acer computers and the overwhelming majority of hand soaps. Just like legal services and medical care in the US. Overpriced trash, all of it.
The solution to this problem is as obvious as it is unpopular. Instead of racing to the bottom on quality, producers need to start making things that are better, while consumers need to start flatly refusing to buy junk. I don't see this solution as having much of a political dimension. The only thing that could possible bring it about would be massive social pressure, on a scale no one's actually organized yet.
On an individual level, of course, there are things we can do to mitigate the difficulties presented by reality's progressive degradation. While our individual consumer choices probably won't influence the global economy, these choices do impact how we think about the world around us, which isn't nothing. If we can begin seeing the machinery underneath our manufactured landscapes, maybe we can begin fixing this machinery, if only in the smallest of ways.
Read my novels:
- Small Gods of Time Travel is available as a web book on IPFS.
- The Paradise Anomaly is available in print via Blurb and for Kindle on Amazon.
- Psychic Avalanche is available in print via Blurb and for Kindle on Amazon.
- One Man Embassy is available in print via Blurb and for Kindle on Amazon.
- Flying Saucer Shenanigans is available in print via Blurb and for Kindle on Amazon.
- Rainbow Lullaby is available in print via Blurb and for Kindle on Amazon.
- The Ostermann Method is available in print via Blurb and for Kindle on Amazon.
- Blue Dragon Mississippi is available in print via Blurb and for Kindle on Amazon.
See my NFTs:
- Small Gods of Time Travel is a 41 piece Tezos NFT collection on Objkt that goes with my book by the same name.
- History and the Machine is a 20 piece Tezos NFT collection on Objkt based on my series of oil paintings of interesting people from history.
- Artifacts of Mind Control is a 15 piece Tezos NFT collection on Objkt based on declassified CIA documents from the MKULTRA program.