Recycling: adding value by adding meaning

As a comment to yesterday’s post, Jon Foulkes said,

So an extension to this idea: where the bag isn’t just handed down, but can tell you what it’s been up to. Could make second-hand stuff much more desirable than new.


Most things that are used are seen to be diminished by use. Depreciation is not just an economic concept. It’s a cultural fact. Once something has been owned by someone it is soiled, profaned, yuuky, somehow. We continue to have the idea that things come from the factory in a state of grace. Ready for ownership. Ready for us. Any ownership diminishes them.

But what if these products were blank, storyless, tedious. What if objects straight from the factory seemed somehow orphaned, smaller and less interesting for the fact of their pristine condition.  If we care about recycling, we want objects to be better at absorbing and recording and reporting their histories. Of course, some objects will be incapable of telling stories: bottles and newspapers for instance. But clothing, furniture, technology, these could be storyful. And they could spared the landfill for one or more cycles of ownership by the stories they bring us.

There are three problems here. One is technical: how to make the object capable of recording and then retelling its story. One is cultural or rhetorical: how to choose and craft the best stories, the narrative that creates the most value. And the last is economic: how to figure out how to think about what kind of value this is, and how it can be measured, distributed, captured and stored in the marketplace. Oh, we do have our work cut out for us.


Shannon South offers to turn "your Dad’s jacket" into a purse at her reMade USA website here.

Note: This post was lost in the Network Solutions debacle of early 2010.  It was reposted December 26, 2010.