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critical writing


About work

Today’s consumers are inundated with, and purchase, an overabundance of cheap non-durable goods. This essay delves into the darker side of consumerism by proposing that the ownership of too many objects is its own special kind of tyranny. While in some cases design helps to create and even perpetuate many object-related issues, a designer’s ability to recognize and covet quality items can also provide a model for more responsible consumerism.

consumerism, overabundance, consumer goods, energy, ownership

works/5d95e46acc40ceff8c4cc1f832a2ec19/thumbnail/ESCAPE FROM THE TYRANNY OF THINGS.docx

Editors comments More info on Curators & Editors ›

Aaris Sherin’s essay ably demonstrates the dilemmas of designers, who after all want to make new things, while simultaneously not wanting their work to contribute to the problems of consumer culture, from psychological dependence on acquisition to environmental destruction. The essay offers interesting examples of designers grappling with this problem, and calls for the return of a hand-crafted aesthetic that will substitute quality for quantity. I respect the author’s attempts to solve this problem, but I’m not too hopeful that this can be more than a niche market for upscale consumers, as has already developed in certain sectors. The profit motive is very strong for the creation of the cheap and easy, and there are still huge swaths of people who are looking for the basics and a bit more at the cheapest possible prices. This dynamic reflects the bifurcation of wealth: the well-to-do can afford to consider the environmental impact of their purchases, while those on the lower end of the financial divide are just scrambling for necessities. Perhaps this dynamic can be broken by the development of processes for the poor to create their own products, energy, etc., rather than fully entering into the hedonistic consumer culture that has come to dominate wealthier societies. Perhaps designers could contribute to the development of these sorts of projects, rather than focusing on specific products.

The author’s argument that less can be more, that living with fewer products actually creates greater enjoyment of them, does offer an appealing alternative to mindless acquisition without the usual scolding tone of critics of consumer culture. Recently, there has been social research on consumer patterns by children that shows the incredible amount of stuff that middle-class American kids grow up with. I always react to such work with memories of my own childhood, which was in no way deprived yet also not inundated with endless streams of toys, books, electric appliances, etc. I do wonder if I enjoyed my toys, which numbered in the single digits, more than kids of this generation appreciate their roomfuls of gadgets. I hope the author continues to explore the alternatives to wasteful and addictive consumption, while also continuing to appreciate that some stuff is just neat and fun to have around.

View other works commented by Daniel Marcus  ››

The text of Aaris Sherin is sound and convincingly argued essay that focuses mainly on the critique of consumption and an urge to design and live with objects in a different way. It touches the topic of debt by a detour, by proposing less or a different kind of consumption, dealing with commodities and objects. The text is not completely clear if this demand is to be done only in design field, on individual plane, or can some of these refined consumption practice be used on a more collective level. It seems that the austerity measures in Europe (and elsewhere, with crisis) self-impose less consumption, but then the choice is rather imposed as a matter of survival. Sherin's considerations are of different quality and demand a conscious and responsible "designer", which again brings us to education and a new sense of community.

View other works commented by Gal Kirn  ››

An interesting perspective from the designer’s point of view, acknowledging the perpetuation of consumer’s excessive behavioral tendencies. Aaris reverberates the responsibility of industry to design production outputs longer-term durability and put more thought into the products use. Touches on the detriments of globalization as an unsustainable mode for production. The essay is quite light on the greater issue of the capitalist drive to maximize profits. Designers have arguably become submissive to the forces of capitalism and economic growth subject to the bounds of money. The ideas of channeling design to suppress the excess behaviors of consumer could be construed as quite narrow minded and idealistic. Nevertheless, some good ideas for thought at an industry level and uses good examples of how capitalism as a system of excesses, and not shortages, as emphasized in economic theory.

View other works commented by Steve Keen  ››

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This work has been commented by 3 editor(s):
Daniel Marcus Gal Kirn Steve Keen go to comments ›

Entry details



Concept author(s)

Aaris Sherin

Concept author year(s) of birth



United States of America

Competition category

critical writing

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Subfield description

I teach and write about design - technically my job is academic however this piece is written in a less academic style so I wasn't sure what section to put it under.