Every time I write about Stuff, readers point me to The Story of Stuff, a 20-minute video about where Stuff comes from and where it goes. Until today, however, I’d never taken time to watch it. According to the web site:
From its extraction through sale, use and disposal, all the stuff in our lives affects communities at home and abroad, yet most of this is hidden from view. The Story of Stuff is a 20-minute, fast-paced, fact-filled look at the underside of our production and consumption patterns.
The Story of Stuff is an interesting short film, particularly in its last half. Writer and narrator Annie Leonard explains that the “golden arrow of consumption” is the heart of the modern economic system, a system that’s really only existed since the 1950s.
After World War II, planned obsolescence was incorporated into the production of consumer goods. Whereas quality and long life had once been a selling point, now things were intentionally designed with shorter lifespans. Obviously, this increased the rate of consumption.
Even more powerful, however, is the notion of perceived obsolescence. Perceived obsolescence is most obvious with regards to fashion. I suspect most Get Rich Slowly readers try to divorce their purchase decisions from the clutch of fashion because they understand just how insidious it can be. Who wants to be seen wearing clothing from 1993?
But perceived obsolescence goes beyond just fashion. How many of you geeks still have your first iPod? Why did you move to a new one? Was anything wrong with the old one? Or were you, on some unconscious level, unwilling to be seen carrying around that brick anymore? (I’m guilty of having upgraded my iPod because my old one seemed out-of-date, so don’t think I’m condemning anyone.)
What is the cost of all this? Leonard says that 99% of the stuff we harvest, mine, process, transport, and consume is trash within six months. Only 1% of the materials used to produce consumer goods (including the goods themselves) are still used six months after the date of sale.
Here’s the best part of The Story of Stuff chapter five, “Consumption”:
This excerpt is brilliant. I’ve watched it four or five times this afternoon, and could watch it again right now. Thanks to the dozens of Get Rich Slowly readers who have been recommending this video for the past year. I should have watched it sooner.
Addendum #1: Jessica noted that the film’s web site includes an annotated script to back up Leonard’s arguments.
Addendum #2: Every once in a while you folks really disagree with me. This is one of those times. Lots of negative responses in the comments. (Which I don’t consider a bad thing, by the way, as long as discourse remains civil and on topic.)