First things first


Thursday, 12 February 2009

I fancy some toast... but first I need to finish making my toaster

This is another item not related directly to Westcombe Park, but I liked this as an illustration of our dependency.

Thomas Thwaites is an artist who is trying to build a replica of your bog-standard cheap toaster from scratch. Not just collecting the various parts and assembling them, but creating the plastic moulding from oil, constructing the wiring, melting the ore for iron.

He expects to end up with a rather sad-looking pastiche of an industrially manufactured toaster, despite his best efforts. His point seems to be that, even for the simple process of turning bread into toast, we depend on consumer appliances created by huge industrial processes that are simply beyond our ability to replicate without the absurd amount of effort he is going to.

It raises questions, he thinks, "about economics, helplessness, and life as a consumer".

Helplessness is, of course, one of the things that transition groups try to address by making communities more self-reliant, more resilient, sourcing more of their own needs locally.

The toaster example does act as a (troubling) indicator of where we are: the daily, all-pervasive ways in which we depend on oil and on the industrial processes which may soon lack the supply of oil needed to sustain them - and to sustain us.

It's also a good example of the million ways in which we are dependent without even realising it, stumbling to the kitchen bleary-eyed to make our toast each morning without acknowledging the strange miracle that made it possible. Personally, I find it sometimes terrifying, but also often empowering, to spot these daily dependencies. Without seeing them you cannot begin to address them.

1 comment:

Greenpa said...

I think what you may have, with your homemade industrial toaster, is a beautiful illustration of the falseness of the entire concept of "economies of scale."

It looks to me, at this point, that "economies of scale" only serve to increase "profits"- and they are based deeply on both cheap oil, and labor kept cheap by inappropriate means.

Economies of scale are- a sham. Not real. An illusion- and a lie.

:-) Sorry if I sound cranky about that. Economies of scale are still touted as a huge advancement for mankind; and desirable at all costs. And it just ain't so.

Get out the old toasting fork. Real efficiency!