• Penultima - Essay 4

    To identify and then react to the pervasive trends that have surrounded daily life in America over the past half-century involves making choices that are predicated on personal judgement. A decision to separate, or back away slowly from particular technologies or marketing trends needs to be preceded by a constant steady focus: maintaining eye contact.

    The result of this process of personal realization and separation can be a series of commitments, relationships, and values that bear a distinctive signature in this time and placeThe choice involves creating distance from those technologies and trends that compromise the sensory and the natural world. The intended benefit is a deeper, more personally engaged, and perhaps more profound experience of living life.

    This all depends on emerging values being articulated in a distinct, possibly counter-cultural lifestyle. It's essential to remove the designation of "liberal", "enlightened", or even "progressive" from this process and its goals. For perhaps even the vast majority of individuals living in a first-world society, this process of separation may be uninteresting and unappealing.

    There are many individuals who legitimately prefer the taste, texture, and price of Velveeta compared to a select organic cheese originating from a micro-producer. There are those who in coming years will purchase Google Glass units and wear the device all throughout their waking hours, relying almost completely on support from the digital world to the exclusion of the sensory and natural world.

    Curiosity is the path to willingness. As developed economies and modern societies have demonstrated the ability to increasingly divorce daily life from nature, the local, and the sensory, there are plenty of grateful recipients. These include children whose curiosity is directed early.

    Air conditioning, hot water heaters, recorded sound. These three innovations have emerged as accessible consumer goods over the last century. Their basic purpose offers more than mere convenience. They each provide real human comfort, a measurable improvement in productivity, and, at least in the case of recorded sound, reverie and true joy.

    But still, even these resources invite a steady gaze that might lead to a personal decision to reconsider and reposition a long-held relationship.

    Chicken is a domesticated bird and food source not found in the wild. There is evidence that chickens were initially raised and bred 10,000 years ago to be cockfighters for wagering and sport. Over many centuries, the taste and aroma of both cooked chicken and chicken eggs has become globally appealing, crossing disparate cultures and cuisines.

    For some, holding a steady gaze and taking a step back might involve the determination that locally-raised farm fresh eggs and chicken raised organically, free from antibiotics, are preferable to the products of mega-industrial food processing. This becomes an individual value judgement where the senses of taste, sight, and smell may combine with moral and ethical perceptions about how what's on the plate got there. Supporting this conviction might include the willingness to pay a surcharge for produce that costs more to provide to a smaller market in smaller quantities.

    This is one of a series of personal choices that results in a unique indelible signature. This particular decision is not either salutary or necessary to what many intellegent feeling individuals consider a comfortable life well-lived. In this mortal plane, there is only so much time, only so much desire to learn and discern.

    Even so, it is this pervasive inability or unwillingness to place significance and importance on subtle characteristics that product designers, advertisers, and manufacturers constantly leverage with the modern consumer. In the 1980s, a prominent small appliance firm decided to close a California factory that produced clothes irons with solid metal parts and casings.

    The reason given for the closure in the company's public announcement was that consumer surveys (commissioned by the company) concluded that customers preferred irons made with plastic components and design features. Durability and maintenance in this product line were subordinated to lighter weight and color. In this market analysis, the essential question of which product ironed clothes most effectively was left largely undetermined. You might say it was a wash. Ultimately, in an advanced consumer culture the product that does the best job is the one that's available to buy.

    The reasons why these larger trends should matter to an individual needs to remain personal - a matter of faith rather than preference. But apart from the industry trend to make lighter-weight, plastic irons that are less suitable to servicing and maintenance lies a simple fact. The high-impact plastic and the teflon now commonly used in the manufacturing process are more separated from the natural world than the steel those materials replaced.

    In order to create one distance by stepping back, we also judge other distances by using a steady gaze.