I’ve spent a couple of hours looking for a durable, high-capacity alternative for my iPod, and come to the conclusion that one simply doesn’t exist. A reasonably well constructed Flash-based mp3 player would suffice, were it not for the fact that the largest capacity player of that sort is too small for my music collection (comment predictor: yes, I know I can, but that’s not the context in which I’d use it). There’s no reason why Flash-based systems can’t have more capacity, so many months after the last generation were released, except that the ever-benevolent invisible guiding hands seem to have parted the markets at the 10GB mark, with Flash-based players perhaps condemned as “not in demand” beyond that.
So I have opted out of the consumption process, for now. The notion that I might acquiesce and buy a device that only satisfies some of my requirements, to find it obsoleted in a few months’ time when the industry undergoes one of its periodic, tiny revolutions, makes me revolt internally instead. I simply will not buy a replacement for a luxury I do not need. I will get by without, and with K’s old CD player, and if that dies then a second-hand CD player from somewhere else. I will make do and mend, because one day we might have to make do, or die.
More and more these days I’m driven by the value of made things. The germ of this notion was environmental necessity: it’s a difficult relationship to pin down, really, but more elaborate manufacturing generally translates into more carbon (whether directly through machine processing or indirectly by keeping the workers’ standards of life sufficiently high). Intricacy takes time, or effort, or the many arms and tools of parallel workmanship, and any one of those three factors in turn takes energy and the burning of million-year-old quondam forests. There’s no perfect, infallible relationship between industrial construction and environmental destruction, but as a pivot against which to lever a life change it’s better than most. it has clarity, rationality and some empirical justification.
Now that I’ve begun to tread this path, though, I see the evidence of made things everywhere. Electronic devices are the worst: complex, time-consuming time-bombs full of toxins and implicit, embedded carbon. Confessing to a single recent electronics purchase on most online calculators increases your global footprint by half a world. Tetrapaks aren’t recyclable, so if you’ve no reasonable alternative then go for the juice with the least innovative sealing mechanism: if you’re that bothered about citrus freshness then buy a fucking jug which you can re-use ten thousand times. Leaf tea is in principle better than bagged tea, but the difficulties of transportation and packaging make the contest a little too close for me to call. Every decision requires new calculations, and some will inevitably reduce to the commonsensical—by which I mean well-meaning but ignorant and ultimately self-defeating.
Save jamjars; return milk bottles (especially if found, dumped); repair with re-used metal and wood, offcuts from cans or previous DIY, or someone else’s DIY. Our cultural waste already surrounds us, and it will only be so long before it swamps us, pouring over the tops of landfills and smothering the green lungs that are one of our remaining, weakened barriers against utter devastation. We need to become inured to what has until now been frowned upon as a sort of third-world reuse born out of necessity: composting the metal and the wood and the glass back into the mulch of our daily lives; 57 varieties over a hole in your garage door; the cup that cheers stopping the wobble of your table-legs; the buoyance of Cillit Bang bottles keeping the cistern tap switched off. Otherwise, one day, we will all be exhibits in the Pitt Rivers.