Designing the World
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Globalized culture also means a loss of a certain kind of locale, a certain sense of indigenous culture. There have been some interesting studies of material culture of the United States, specifically in reference to what they call the first economic revolution.
The first economic revolution in the United States was not the Industrial Revolution. It was the importation of European goods to the Native American peoples, and it changed their way of life radically. And, in a weird way, it created the Plains people. The idea that if you have a gun and can shoot from a horse and kill X number of buffalo and become mobile in a way you never could before—it created, for woodlands peoples, this vast thing called “the Plains,” which they now could conquer. And, it was really kind of a rapid shift.6
So, the importation of goods has always changed cultures, and the identification with identity around those goods always happened. The question is, what’s the level of awareness and responsibility that the producers take in that, or the designers.
TONY WHITFIELD: I think for designers though, it’s not simply the goods. One of the things that has been really important for me in terms of my students is to also understand the human resources, and to understand exactly what the impact of certain practices would be on human beings, on labor.
For many years, there was a discussion of the paperless studio, of the completely digital environment in which production happens. One of the things that I think we’ve come to realize is that there is a problem when you separate that production from an understanding of labor and of what is actually involved in the physical making of a thing. This realization has kept us involved in a kind of constant dialogue among the forces of mass production and the resurgence of a kind of crafts sensibility and respect for craft, respect for cottage industry, and respect for human labor.
JOE FORTE: It’s interesting, too, because respect for labor was the argument of the Arts and Crafts movement. A lot of its socially progressive agenda was based on respect for labor, and how respect for labor could translate into design.
Optimism at the proper scale
TONY WHITFIELD: I’m curious about what the possibility of cataclysm will have on this generation. I remember when I was 6 or 7, it was around the time of the Cuban Missile Crisis. It was terrifying, because I remember being told by my stepfather what would happen if there were a nuclear war. That created an entire context for understanding what the world was. This generation didn’t really have a visualization of cataclysm until 2001. But now, catastrophes around the world get delivered to you in such detail so quickly. Cataclysm feels like a weekly possibility.
JOE FORTE: I think that’s a very good point. The idea of angry nature is more and more a reality. In a strange way, we look at nature as threatening and therefore, young people want to ... “placate” is the wrong term—it’s not like throwing someone into the volcano—but I think they do understand that somehow, we have to work with nature. There’s got to be a way that we can fix it.