If necessity is the mother of invention, then modernity is the father of obsolescence.
In the 1970s the average ten-speed bicycle cost around $195. At the time they were considered the ultimate in recreational cycling, light years ahead of the single speed ‘clunkers’ that had hardly changed since the ‘safety bicycle’ of the 1880s. Although once considered so highly, they became a product of programmed obsolescence, and are now discarded without a thought. Once kept safely in the garage, or even the house, cleaned and oiled regularly, they now sadly collect cobwebs, or slowly rust away left out in the weather. Worse still, many are now buried under tonnes of other materials in landfills all around the world.
What are these bicycles worth?
To a teenager in the 1970s: freedom and independence.
In scrap metal today, about $1.
You can have everything you ever wanted, and so can everybody else. But there’s a catch. It requires a paradigm shift. We can no longer consider our planet’s resources as endless, but limited and needing to be shared. It doesn’t mean you have no possessions at all. But it does mean that you do consider the other six billion people you share the planet with. If everyone on the planet did get everything they ever wanted, we would have disappeared from existence a long time ago.
This is the paradox. It requires love.
We can’t really have everything we ever wanted if we are greedy and selfish. But if we are thoughtful, patient and understanding, perhaps we can. How long will it take before we affluent westerners realize that we cannot sustain our current consumption of limited resources? A bicycle, and the materials that formed it, were once considered highly valuable. They were handed down from older sibling to younger sibling, from parent to child and grandparent to grandchild. In many parts of the world they still are.
Scrap steel is only worth 7 cents a kilogram. Maybe it should be worth more.
Perhaps it isn’t about money at all. Maybe we should use something until it cannot be used anymore, before we even consider replacing it. Maybe we should design things that are long lasting and not subject to the latest fad or fetish. Maybe we shouldn’t believe that new is always best. We should consider that only fifty years ago we had the ingenuity and creativity to manage to live with only a fraction of the resources we have today. Most people around the world still do.
We westerners still have much to rethink.