Monday, November 05, 2007

Chris Jordan: Conspicuous consumption

The number of plastic bags used in the US in 5 seconds (60x72 ")
How many cellphone models have you had? How many plastic bottles of Coke/Pepsi/etc did you drink and dispose over the last week? How many times did you stop at the coffee kiosk and do you remember where you put your coffee cup? How many print-outs did you take? Were they one-sided? Did you leave the tap running while you brushed your teeth? How many computers have you owned and what happened to the ones you no longer use? Did you go shopping, did you accept plastic bags?

Actual size detail of previous picture
Chris Jordan is an American photographer who's concern is consumption and the scale of it. It seems like a small thing when you see your own waste, but most of us fail to account for the fact that there are hundreds of thousands of people who lead the same lifestyles as us. We fail to account for the size of the problem when do this. Large numbers numb human beings, we cannot process numbers like millions and billions, they are no understandable scale with respect to the ten fingers on our hand. Often to understand them we need the analogy of physical scale. Here is a commonly repeated physical analogy for large time scales:

"Man has been here 32,000 years. That it took a hundred million years to prepare the world for him is proof that that is what it was done for. I suppose it is. I dunno. If the Eiffel tower were now representing the world's age, the skin of paint on the pinnacle-knob at its summit would represent man's share of that age; & anybody would perceive that that skin was what the tower was built for. I reckon they would. I dunno. - Mark Twain"

Chris Jordan's work does exactly this, you see in space what we consume in time and when you consider how much space we occupy, obliterate in how little time hopefully you pause to think. Here is part of his statement, I find it intriguing that he also perceives and worries about the damage to our spirits from this frenzy of consumption:

"The pervasiveness of our consumerism holds a seductive kind of mob mentality. Collectively we are committing a vast and unsustainable act of taking, but we each are anonymous and no one is in charge or accountable for the consequences. I fear that in this process we are doing irreparable harm to our planet and to our individual spirits.- Chris Jordan"

Fifteen minutes of Energizer battery production. Size scaled as if the batteries were depicted at true size.

We, as a country, probably do not yet consume quite as much as the US. But I reckon that in some pockets of Indian society, our consumption levels are as high. With the kind of economic growth that gets much touted in the MSM, some of us are definitely getting there. It is any rate something that many aspire to and that all media now pushes us to aspire to. We need to think about what we're doing. Every time we buy, every time we discard. Can we do without this? Can I use this some more? Do I really need that new shiny thing? Because one day we might be choking on growth.

Recommended viewing: Running the numbers; Intolerable beauty

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