Sunday, March 29, 2009
TRANSIENCE THINGS: The Throw-Away Society
We can, by analogy, think of transience as the rate of the turnover of the different kinds of relationships in an individual's life. Moreover, each of us can be characterized in an individual's life. Moreover, each of us can be characterized in terms of this rate. For some, life is marked by a much slower rate of turnover than for others. The people of past and present lead lives of relatively 'low transience' - their relationships tend to be long-lasting. But the people of the future live in a condition of 'high transience' - a condition in which the duration of relationships is cut short, the through-put of relationships extremely rapid. In their lives, things, places, people, ideas and organizational structures all get 'used up' more quickly. This affects immensely the way they experience reality, their sense of commitment, and their stability - or inability - to cope. It is this fast through-put, combined with increasing newness and complexity in the environment, that strains the capacity to adapt and creates the danger. If we can show that our relationships with the outer world are, in fact, growing more and more transient, we have powerful evidence for the assumption that the flow of situations is speeding up. And we have an incisive new way of looking at ourselves and others. ' BARBIE ', a twelve-inch plastic teenager, is the best-known and best-selling doll in history. Since its introduction in 1959, the Barbie doll population of the world has grown to 12,000,000 - more than the human population of Los Angeles or London or Paris. Little girls adore Barbie because she is highly realistic and eminently dress-upable. Mattle, Inc, makers of Barbie, also sells a complete wardrobe for her, including clothes for ordinary daytime wear, clothes for formal party wear, clothes for swimming and skiing. Recently Mattle announced a new improved Barbie doll. The new version has similar figure, 'real' eyelashes, and a twist-and-turn waist that makes her more humanoid than ever. Moreover, Mattel announced that, for the first time, any young lady wishing to purchase a new Barbie would receive a trade-in allowance for her old one. What Mattel did not announce was that by trading in her old doll for a technologically improved model, the little girl of today, citizen of tomorrow's super-industrial world, would learn a fundamental lesson about the new society: that man's relationships with things are increasingly temporary. The ocean of man-made physical pbjects that surrounds us is set within a larger ocean of natural objects. But increasingly, it is the technologically produced environment that matterts for the individual. The texture of plastic or concrete the iridescent glisten of an automobile undera streetllight, the staggering vision of cityscape seen from the window of a jet - these are the intimate realities of his existence. Man-made things enter into and colour his consciousness. Their number is expanding with explosive force, both absolutely and relative to the natural environment. This will be even more true in super-industrial society than it is today. Anti-materialists tend to deride the importance of 'things'. Yet thigs are highly significant, not merely because of their functional utility, but also because of their psychological impact. We develop relationships with things. They pay a role in the structure of situations and the foreshortening of our relationsips with things accelerates the pace of life. Moreover, our attitudes towards things reflect basic value judgements. Nothing could be more dramatic than the difference between the new breed of little girls who cheerfully turn their Barbies for the new improved model and those who, like their mothers and grandmothers before them, clutch lingeringly and lovingly to the same old doll until it disintegrates from sheer age. In this fifference lies the contrast between past and future, between societies based on permanence, and the new, fast-forming society based on transience.