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Kipple Field Notes

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  1. patience_limited
    This beautifully written essay comes from Hillary Predko, the curator of The Prepared newsletter. It's a great counterpoint to the Marie Kondo fad (and yes, I'm busily contemplating my current...

    This beautifully written essay comes from Hillary Predko, the curator of The Prepared newsletter.

    It's a great counterpoint to the Marie Kondo fad (and yes, I'm busily contemplating my current crap collection with a view to moving it cross-country). Considering your industrial civilization as a system for producing and living amidst joyless goods, destined to crumble into waste, is a source of both despair and hope.

    Selected passages:

    Philip K. Dick coined the term in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? Isadore, the chicken-headed philosopher of kipple, tell us that kipple is “...useless objects, like junk mail or match folders after you use the last match or gum wrappers or yesterday's homeopape. When nobody's around, kipple reproduces itself. For instance, if you go to bed leaving any kipple around your apartment, when you wake up the next morning there's twice as much of it. It always gets more and more.” Kipple is the process of entropy wearing down the material world, leaving evidence everywhere. Dick’s idea of kipple describes the way useless objects seem inescapable, how they reproduce and surround us.

    "There's the First Law of Kipple…'Kipple drives out nonkipple'." In the novel, Earth has been mostly abandoned by settlers moving to Mars, and the planet is overrun by kipple. Looking at the way our civilization builds objects, sometimes I fear this is where we are headed. We have designed both obsolescence and permanence into the objects we create, and are thus drowning in kipple.

    I’m worried about extraction, climate change, waste, and entropy. But leaving Yiwu, feeling convinced that the maker ideology that had inspired my work for years was politically ineffective, and feeling convinced that the designing and manufacturing of products and commodities is legitimately a bad business that has negative impact on the planet, I still wanted to work designing and producing objects. Our societies, and our daily lives are entirely shaped by material culture. Despite all my frustrations, sitting down to create something from scratch is one of the greatest pleasures in my life. “The quest for a sustainable world may succeed, or it may fail. If it fails, the world will become unthinkable. If it works, the world will become unimaginable (Sterling).” I don’t know how to create a sustainable paradigm for material culture, and all of my previous strategies have been entirely naive, but it is work that is entirely worth doing. To ignore it, to leave the problem unchecked, is to see the kipplization of the planet, the transformation of ecosystems into shopping malls, and to see the oceans filled with ever-growing gyres of plastic.

    I believe it is the responsibility of designers to create strategies that renew and heal and the planet, and that meanwhile keep us all fed and clothed.

    William McDonough, author of Cradle to Cradle, points out that the Industrial Revolution was essentially “an economic revolution, driven by the desire for the acquisition of capital.” Our current system, complete with wasteful resources management, is still based on the legacy assumptions that drove the industrial revolution. Creating larger profit margins over rationing resource usage has been an ongoing design consideration when it comes to creating products and systems of production. “Planned obsolescence is the catch-all phrase used to describe the assortment of techniques used to artificially limit the durability of a manufactured good in order to stimulate repetitive consumption (Slade).” For nearly 90 years, disposability has been an important design consideration for many producers of manufactured goods. “To achieve shorter product lives and sell more goods, manufacturers in the 1930s began to base their choice of materials on scientific tests by newly formed research and development departments. These tests determined when each of the product’s specific components would fail (Slade).”

    The world of industrial design needs to celebrate systems solutions that tackle waste and environmental impact rather than kickstarter projects that look like they are from a near-future Skymall catalogue. Designers need to make processes and supply chains visible, and invite critique and collaboration. We need to commit to better, more critical educational outcomes, and design social protocols for sharing commodities and resources to keep them out of landfills longer.

    We can never escape entropy, but we can live in a closer harmony to it, keeping objects until they have truly outlived their use rather than trading up according to fashion or desire. “More than anything else, however, products that are meaningful (that resonate with our values, emotions, and meanings) are often the most satisfying and durable of all (Shedroff).” Until we can live in a world where product lifecycles are circular, and the end of life for a product doesn’t mean the end of useful resource use, the best we can do is form long lasting, meaningful relationships to the things we do own and use.

    Meaning and functionality can help us hold back the ever encroaching tide of kipple. “[We] can take kipple and distinguish it from itself, endlessly, through categorisation and classification. Far from using things until they run down, humans build new relations, new meanings, carefully and slowly from the mush. New categories produce new things, produce newness (Rourke).” We need to advocate for a new paradigm of material culture, and find meaning in the things we own if we hope to avoid the complete kipplization of the planet.

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