The Evolving Nature Of Stuff

The Evolving Nature Of Stuff
By: Tim McIntyre

In this day and age, it’s hard to keep a relationship going. They’re not literally made to last. Not talking about love matches of course… everyone knows… those last forever. I’m referring to relationships of a material kind – The one between man and machine.

Yes, it’s clichéd and very silly. For this reason, men generally do not admit to having a relationship with an object. We chose instead to say that something has ‘sentimental value’. In extreme cases, we call these objects ‘heirlooms’.

If you can relate to the Patek Philippe advertisement about a man being a caretaker of a watch for his son, then the idea of an extended relationship with stuff stops looking sad but begins to look aristocratic. Financially astute even.

The fact that most stuff made today, is not made to last, only accentuates the ad’s appeal.

In The Language of Things – Understanding the world of desirable objects, author Deyan Sudjic talks of the changing relationship many of us have with our possessions. Until the end of the 1980s, a camera, notes Sudjic, was designed to last a lifetime while a telephone was leased from the government and built to withstand industrial use. Their modern equivalents have a life cycle measured in months. “Each new generation,” he adds, “is superseded so fast that there is never time to develop a relationship between owner and object.”

Relationship between owner and object? What’s the point when stuff nowadays is so good we can’t wait to replace them? Luxury items are not immune.

Luxury. Not only has the word lost its lustre, it’s morphed into something grotesque. Luxury has come to symbolize all that is superficial, fleeting, self-indulgent and wasteful – a euphemism for something that lacks substance. Not too long ago, the word stood for craftsmanship and quality of the highest level.

“Luxury was the pleasure to be found,” Sudjic adds, “in understanding the quality of material things that were thoughtfully and carefully made. It was the aspect of an object’s nature that allows us to share the pleasure that it gave its designer or maker. It was a reflection of intelligence, as well as of tactile sensations.”

The process of understanding and sharing an “object’s nature” can bring many years of pleasure to its owner. Years. In an age of throwaways, very few things understandably make the cut.

Maybe we are placing too high a premium on longevity? Especially on an item that isn’t designed that way. Like an iPad. Or an item of fashion. It’s easy to confuse fashion with luxury, (both involve the creation of beautiful, expensive things). There is one key difference.

Fashion, if it is worthy of the name, becomes unwearable / undesirable / unsuable in six months. It is faddish and transient. Luxury items, it is our undying belief, operate on a set of values that help them stay desirable, relevant and valued for a little longer.

And in so doing, make room for the life-affirming relationships that can happen between people and their favourite things.