Made With Contempt

I was watching a television show aimed at children, the other day, called “How It’s Made”. The show is a documentary program showing how common, everyday items (including foodstuffs like bubblegum, industrial products such as motors, musical instruments such as guitars, and sporting goods such as snowboards) are manufactured.  Each half hour show usually has three or four main segments, with each product getting a demonstration of about five minutes, with exceptions for more complex products.  I noticed something about how things are made.  Most of the things we produce and buy in our modern industrial society are made with utter contempt.

Firstly, there is contempt for the materials and ingredients.  Take a look at how the average industrial process handles these and you will be horrified.  Materials are not treated with any respect or reverence.  They are man-handled and thrown about, ripped at and yanked around, like these things are unimportant.  The materials themselves are often of quite poor in quality, being sourced at the cheapest price.  There is no concern about the longevity of the materials.  Only price matters.

Next, there is contempt for the workers.  They clearly work in appalling conditions and against the clock, under constant pressure.  They often work without the right safety equipment or protections.  They do repetitive movements with little respite.  You know these workers are not paid well, by the look of them.  In one segment, the entire production line for car seats had an aggregate allowance of eighty seconds to produce a seat that will have a service life of decades, if we were waste conscious, but at least three years in the throw-away society.  Imagine that.  A component that can mean the difference between life and death for the vehicle’s occupant has just eighty seconds lavished upon it, during its construction.  Doesn’t that seem disproportionately small and the focus on cost just a little obsessive?

There is contempt for good design.  Time after time, the programme reveals fittings and fixtures that are designed for single use, not serviceability.  They can be assembled quickly, but not dismantled and replaced.  The ability to repair the assembly is not considered.  Each component is made to a price, not a quality or service level.  In fact, the failure of a cheap component often leads to the sale of an entirely new assembled unit, so the manufacturer creates their own demand by including parts that are bound to fail and render the whole assembly completely useless.

You can see with your own eyes how profligate the waste of energy is, in the production of many items.  There is little evidence of insulation to conserve waste heat or any water or energy recovery systems.  Even scrap materials are discarded thoughtlessly.  Organic solvents are carelessly vented to the atmosphere.  The design of the products also does not consider what happens to them when they are worn out or broken.  The working assumption is that the items will simply be thrown into a landfill site and forgotten.  Even when recycling is discussed, it is usually after the destruction of the product’s original form and usually results in a weakened, inferior, recycled material that does not have the structural material properties of the original.  The energy required to recycle the materials is often huge.

What this amounts to is contempt for customers.  Manufacturers are filling the shelves of the stores with products that are made with utter contempt.  We’re offered goods that will short-change the products’ owners, because they will be made of inferior materials, carelessly constructed and assembled by demoralized, de-motivated staff, with short service lives and no possibility of economic repair.  It’s the ultimate bad deal.

Compare industrial production and manufacturing with the way artists, artisans and craftspeople make their works.  Items are made with love and care.  They pay attention to detail.  They are concerned with producing their finest work and have one eye on posterity – the idea that their works will outlive them.

Now consider that the reason we don’t make all things with this level of care is because of the uneven distribution of value trading tokens: those pieces of paper that we believe are valuable.  Isn’t a well made, durable, beautiful, well-designed object far more valuable?

Children’s television can be quite depressing, at times.

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About tropicaltheartist

You can find out more about me here: There aren’t many people that exist in that conjunction of art, design, science and engineering, but this is where I live. I am an artist, a musician, a designer, a creator, a scientist, a technologist, an innovator and an engineer and I have a genuine, deep passion for each field. Most importantly, I am able to see the connections and similarities between each field of intellectual endeavour and apply the lessons I learn in one discipline to my other disciplines. To me, they are all part of the same continuum of creativity. I write about what I know, through my blogs, in the hope that something I write will resonate with a reader and help them enjoy their own creative life more fully. I am, in summary, a highly creative individual, but with the ability to get things done efficiently. Not all of these skills are valued by the world at large, but I am who I am and this is me. The opinions stated here are my own and not necessarily the opinion or position of my employer.
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