The 1951 film, ‘The Man in the White Suit’, is a classic comedy from Ealing Studios with a sinister edge. It tells the story of an inventor of a thread that never wears off. When his bosses at the factory discover what he’s doing, they hunt him down. A fabric that never runs out is the antithesis of capitalism and their business model.
65 years later, you could ask what has changed. Modern capitalism is still framed around a disposable culture where things are made not to last in order to sell more – the concept of ‘built-in obsolescence’. As consumers, we are taught to be dissatisfied with what we have. A recent documentary ‘The Lightbulb Conspiracy’ charts the way product design (of lightbulbs, and many other household objects) has increasingly been for shorter life-spans as a way of fuelling growth for growth’s sake.
For me, 20 years ago, it took the experience of a year living in a village in rural eastern Nepal to see how our culture of consumption in the developed world is not just manufactured, it is only one reality and possibility amongst many others. There, living in a household of 8 people for a year, we created less than a dustbin of waste. We got milk straight from the cow, vegetables unpackaged from the market and hoarded and refilled containers full of rice, kerosene and other staples. And when our precious stove broke down, we would get it fixed.
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