PJ and I had a disagreement while I was reading Outliers. When I told him what it was about he asked what Gladwell had to say about the environment. I told him it was a study in sociology and cultural anthropology not an eco book.
PJ thinks it's too late in history for writers to use up resources publishing books that aren't ecologically conscientious, either by subject or in material. I can definitely see what he's saying though I disagree when it comes to knowledge, but wholeheartedly agree when it comes to things like junk made from plastic and multi-million dollar blockbuster movies that endorse violence and the role of women as love interests only.
But now I see that PJ has a point.
I have just finished reading Deyan Sudjic's The Language of Things, given to me for my birthday by my dear friend, E. As the cover suggests, it is about objects and the things we consume and surround ourselves with. It was published in 2008 in the UK, where Sudjic lives and works as the Director of the Design Museum, London.
Now, can you imagine a book about design and consumerables published only last year that does not mention eco-design, sustainability or waste?
That's not entirely true. There is one mention, on page 14, in relation to Apple products:
Earnest Elmo Calkins coined the term 'consumer engineering'. In Consumer Engineering: A New Technique for Prosperity, published in 1932, he suggests that 'Goods fall into two classes: those which we use, such as motor cars, and safety razors, and those which we use up, such as toothpaste, or soda biscuits. Consumer engineering must see to it that we use up the kind of goods we now merely use.' Apple has made it happen, just at the moment that the world is beginning to understand that there are limits to its natural resources. It has given the relentless cycle of consumption a fashionable gloss, cynically endorsed by hipsters in black jeans and black T-shirts, rather than corporate suits.
And that's it. In the book's 223 pages only 116 words are dedicated to ecological purposes. What a wasted opportunity and what a waste of materials. Sudjic points the finger at Apple for producing products that use non-renewable resources, but he has done the same thing by printing his book on chlorine-bleached, non-recycled paper from non-sustainable forests.
I guess I would forgive Sudjic's environmental oversight, as I have Gladwell's, if I thought the book was worth it. But I don't. I found it stale. So why did I finish reading it? In one sense I felt like I should read it, not just because the book was a gift and came recommended, but because I thought it would be good for me, like I feel in museums reading the wall label next to each old artefact.
All those pages and all those words surrounding me like objects in a stuffy old design museum. I'm with Will, the narrator in Dave Eggers's You Shall Know Our Velocity who says he would rather give things away than endure "the slow suffocation of accumulation".