Love is in the Air: Innovation frenzy and the role of the maker

Let me paint a familiar picture. My favorite appliance/gadget that I have had since I was 10 finally kicks the bucket and I am charged with the task of replacing it. My search leads me to Target where I find an assortment of spaceship looking objects that are the love child of a young Bill Gates and Rosie, the maid from the Jetsons. This contraption can simultaneously brush my teeth, wake me up in the morning, and tell me what to wear based on the weather. The only glitch to this all-in-one cure to my appliance needs is that the instruction manual is 107 pages long and reads like a PHD engineering disertation. In the end I decide I wont buy anything until I go home to do more research on which is the best one to get (i.e. I wont buy anything).

Every time this happens I find myself uttering the lament of my grandparents generation- "They don't make things like they used to". The real question is WHY don't they make things like they used to. How do products that work well get replaced by ones that don't?Could it be that Ad agencies found the perfect formula to tap into our consumer desire to purchase objects that craft personal identity regardless of their ability to function? Is it that media outlets have created the mirage that our economy is solely dependent on consumer spending? (They do cover every single earnings statement from department stores and highlight consumer confidence reports at every oppurtunity)

I think it comes from the fact that most people relate more to buying objects than making them or fixing them. In the last 100 years the accumulated social knowledge of crafting/repairing objects has slowly dwindled. My grandmother had an amazing assortment of screw, bolts,  and parts that she would use to fix everything. This didn't keep porely functioning objects in use forever, but it did increase the understanding of how things work. This led to innovation on a personal level. Products that worked well enough were tinkered with to make them work just right. At some point in our social history (Post WW2 and Late 80's-90's economic boom) technology and prosperity created an atmosphere that encouraged people to throw objects away instead of fixing them. The appliance repair man's fees were more than the cost of buying a new one so the old won went to the landfill. Planned obsolescence became the norm. The bells and whistles emerged as the distinguishing factor in market place not the fitness of the product. This cycle of innovation has accelerated to a frenzied pace and the consumer is left scrambling to keep up.

I'm not taking an anti-innovation or anti-technology stance. I cant separate myself from my chronological place in this technology chain. Most of my childhood coincided with the first wave of the computer age. I embrace technology with my Ipod and laptop. My experience has informed my chosen role as a maker to provide the counterpoint to frivolous innovation. I use the pottery platform to make objects that function well and communicate my understanding of our culture. I will never be able to produce faster than machines set up for mass production.  I can make objects that connect on a more subtle level with their users. This subtlety is loss when you take that human out of the production cycle. The more hand work, the more infinite variation you have in surface and form. I find human interaction with the material to be the thing that attracts me most to art objects.

Here is the article that got me thinking about this. For the full article click here.
Excerpt from NY Times article, When more is decidedly less By ALICE RAWSTHORN Published: January 24, 2010 

You’ve probably been cursed too. Inoperable cellphones. Impenetrable Web sites. Neurotically overstyled objects. Too much packaging. Digital versions of this, that and the other. Things with esoteric functions that we’re unlikely to ever be able to pronounce correctly, let alone to want to use. We’ve all tussled with them from time to time.
There’s nothing new in this. Ever since the Industrial Revolution, designers have striven to make things that offer more than their predecessors. More speed. More power. More functions. More whatever. If the “more” is well chosen and executed, it can lead to progress; but if not, it could have the opposite effect. Who has
enough time to go online to find out how to turn off a tap?
The problem is that we’re at a particular stage of the design cycle when so many “innovations” are spurious, that the risk of them over-complicating our lives is scarily high. There’s no excuse for this, not least because qualities like “clarity” and “simplicity” loom large in almost every design doctrine.
My vote for the worst offender goes to Casa Bugatti’s ridiculously overwrought diVa. The silly name says it all, and the over-complicated spelling makes it worse.

No comments:

Post a Comment