Material Matters

Walter - Ellicott City, Maryland
Entered on August 25, 2008
Age Group: 30 - 50
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I believe that not all things in our world should be made out of plastic. This may seem like a mundane discussion but the composition of the articles in our lives does have an effect on us. This is not to say that plastic is evil or degrading our lives. Plastic has allowed the design and distribution of many technologies that would not be possible otherwise. What I am saying is not ALL things should be made of this material.

As a point of focus, when is the last time you looked at your cell phone, your car dash, your computer and wonder what went into all the plastics parts in that item? I am guessing most of us take those parts of the assembly for granted. The plastic parts become background ingredients to the more important higher assembly. We should be aware that to make those pieces possible there are many people and resources involved. But because it is made of plastic we just assume some machine somewhere has spit those pieces out in the thousands with no more care than a machine can give it. The material itself gives life to other machines but in itself does not have life. And worse, it does not reflect the effort of those people who brought it into existence.

For contrast, try sitting in an Adirondack chair made by a skilled craftsman with no paint applied. This type of chair has many derivatives but almost all of them are comfortable to sit in….some more than others. If you take the time to slow down and enjoy the chair your experience may open up to include thinking about the wood itself. You might think about what kind of tree it is, where it came from, how old it was when it was cut down, how old you were when the tree first sprouted to life, what the wood worker went through to shape the pieces into the final assembly. The material itself contains life and gives us the space to consider the day to day articles in our lives.

As a hobbyist wood worker I have made several of these chairs. Each one built a little different for various reasons. I know where each has ended up including the one that ended up in the dumpster. I have a friend who purchased two plastic Adirondack chairs several years ago. Over the years, he would ridicule me for the time, money and effort I put into my wood chairs and how much smarter his plastic chair is. His mass produced plastic chairs still look the same years later whereas my surviving wood chairs have matured. To me, the wood chairs have become more interesting and even more inviting for someone to sit in. As I age, these chairs have gone along with me recording the passing of time. Wood has a way of making one nostalgic as it gets older.

As technology develops the use of plastic has grown and we as humans have gotten better at designing these materials for everyday use. The future is bound to contain more and more of the material. We should not allow our senses to be dulled by the proliferation of this material. Instead, we should embrace those things in life that are still akin to being made of natural materials that makes us aware of time passing and just how precious that time is. These things go along the trip with us and remind us of where we have come from. Spend some time in a leather chair with a wooden frame. Take along your down feather pillow with a cotton case and reconnect to the beauty of those materials whose life span is closer to our own.