Replaceability

There is a feeling, which happens with greater and greater frequency as we age, that some product is perfect for us. That we will need no improvement, and that any future iteration will probably be worse.

We’d like to freeze time, to have whoever makes whatever it is continue, indefinitely.

Occasionally we are lucky, and the product is of such mass appeal that the company in question does continue to produce it, with alternate versions in addition to the key product, for decades.

Occasionally the jeans we wear are the 501, and will be available effectively forever.

Occasionally the shoes we wear are the Adidas Samba, and have been brought back by our love for them, become the uniform for thousands of men looking for flat leather sneakers that will look good with any outfit and be available for half a hundred dollars world wide.

Occasionally we are comfortable in Hanes underwear, with Dove soap, Budweiser beer, or Coca-cola.

Even then, the products will occasionally change beyond recognition, for no apparent reason, as we still purchase them in similar quantities as we have prior.

Because of these changes, because of our awareness of the temporary nature of mass production and the consumer culture, we find ourselves with a new kind of worry, a new sense of desire. Not for one of an object, a hat, a jacket, but for an infinite supply, for an immediate replacement should anything happen to our treasure.

We will wish for another Adidas Marun, and know that, were we smarter, had we more money and storage space, we would have purchased two pairs at the beginning, rather than one. We would have purchased a second, a back up, for each of these items we so love.

The idea that we should be prepared for loss, that we should no longer rely on brands or manufacturers, on stores or models, but should instead stockpile, is not crazy. In his biography we learn that Steve Jobs had hundreds of his specific mock turtleneck. This can be seen as obsession, but also as anticipation of change, and the desire to avoid it.

Is this good? Sustainable? Desirable? Should we shift tastes forever as we age, constantly accustomed to new products and new surroundings, or should, at some point, our tastes coalesce into the person we will be, and our desire to be constantly replacing things we once loved with new fade into the background, become less important than it was in our teenage years, in the years of our first job.

It’s a strange feeling, to discover a new thing and immediately be concerned with its replaceability.

The setting sun

From the rooftop we can see the edge of the continent. In the last light of Sunday it looks appropriately epic. We are quiet in the face of majesty, at least initially. I remember standing with friends on the rim of the Grand Canyon one morning in the year two thousand, all four of us silently willing our minds to process what our eyes were taking in. The task remains daunting even in my memory a decade later.

Few events require that kind of silence, the re-routing of all brain power from chatter and output to absorption of spectacle. The sunset this evening was that kind of thing, pink and gold and dusty rose and purple filling the sky and reflecting off of all the glass of the city’s windows behind us, up and down its hills, in between trees and large structures. The shifting clouds led the light inland and gave it the rippling texture of the wind.

I am obsessed with satellite imagery of our planet, of the surprising intricacies and overwhelming scale of this globe.  Photos, events, descriptions in books lead me inevitably to the true magic of our generation, the unstated masterpiece of our global connectivity thus far: the easily available view of our planet. No longer is knowledge of the world a challenge to obtain, no longer is a sense of geography the province of those who spend days outdoors or a life on the road. The world is a thing to be seen and the tools to do so can fit in our pockets, can take over our walls.

I wait eagerly for a multi-touch display the size of a Minority Report screen not to wave away dialogue boxes on, but to view the Maldives from a thousand meters up, to observe the east coast of the United States, where I grew up, from the spartan furnishings of whatever tiny Asian apartment I then inhabit.

Watching the sunset this evening, though, my desires are quieted and the vast list of adventures to plan, tickets to purchase, and accommodations to discover slide out of my brain along with all thoughts of technology. I do not even remember the camera, that falls to my companion, who hustles down the stairs and returns with image capturing equipment. Instead I turn my head from ocean to hills and stare. The light fades earlier these days, and is no less impressive for the arbitrary change in hour.

The year is coming to an end, surprisingly. It feels as though it just began, twenty eleven with its frantic pace. The colors that fill the sky tonight promise, like an afterthought on a gorgeous day, that all is not yet done.  Brief though are the remaining pauses where the eyes can overwhelm the brain’s thoughts of work and obligation.

Our minds finally still then, here in the last of the week’s light, we stand on a rooftop in San Francisco, gaze towards the ocean and feel the wind.