Videos about stuff

The Story of StuffOver the past couple of months, several people have pointed us to the Story of Stuff, a 20-minute video about where “stuff” comes from and goes. It’s okay, but neither Maggie and I made it all the way through the entire thing, so we weren’t planning to post about it.

Just recently, J.D. of Get Rich Slowly posted about the Story of Stuff and got a lot of interesting comments. Nobody was saying exactly what I was thinking, though, which surprised me. I thought my reaction would be a little more universal (or at least understood even if people didn’t agree).

A lot of people have really gotten something out of the video. And no wonder. The animation is fun, the speaker is engaging, and it’s a fresh look at a problem we’ve had for a long time (and that’s getting worse all the time).

The only problem is that the author takes a very narrow view and, in the process of simplifying the concepts to fit that view, introduced a host of technical errors. For example, the portion that J.D. embedded claims that you have to buy a new computer every 2-3 years only because the CPU changes shape. That’s almost entirely false, which makes me question how much stuff she’s wrong about in domains that I’m not expert in. A little later, she makes the claim that only 1% of raw materials are still in use after 6 months. Her annotated transcript cites a book for that number, but the book itself (which is online) doesn’t explain where the figure came from.

Even ignoring these simplifications, I had some trouble with the tone of the piece. According to the video, the blame for our current wasteful system lies primarily with big corporations (and our government, for letting big companies do what they want). Although a lot of companies have contributed to the problem, I think a lot of it comes down to personal responsibility too. For example, perceived obsolence is only made possible when we cede our decisions to an arbitrary fashion. I think people should make their voices heard and tell corporations and governments that the environment is a priority, but I also think that the most important thing is to start taking some responsibility on our own. I wish the Story of Stuff had addressed that.

Overall, it’s not bad, but the oversimplifications and overtly political overtones kept me from fully enjoying it. It’s also really long and repetitive, although I’m willing to believe that’s because I know more about this stuff than her audience. I certainly wouldn’t discourage you from watching it, but if you were to ask for my recommendation, I’d point you to a different video (mild swearing), where George Carlin explains his theory of stuff much faster and better. this!

5 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    Student Doctor Green said,

    June 13, 2008 @ 1:30 pm

    I think it’s both. Yeah we have to take responsibility and not buy stuff we don’t need but also we need quality products that aren’t going to fall apart on us and require replacement.

    I enjoyed the George Carlin! Great stuff 😉

  2. 2

    Andy said,

    June 13, 2008 @ 10:22 pm

    I saw the story of stuff a long time ago now it seems, I don’t really remember where I first heard of it, but I liked it then. Since then I saw it a few more times and I think I have a similar view to what you mention. It really doesn’t make it sound like the consumers fault really, when it really is. I used to buy new things all the time, and then I one point I started trading some of those things. I would round up things to sell on ebay, and then use that money to buy new things, so I thought the process was a little more of a loop than just buy buy buy. But now I don’t really buy anything other than food. Actually, I can’t even remember what I last bought other than bike materials. That’s probably good that I can’t remember! 🙂

  3. 3

    Will said,

    June 13, 2008 @ 11:41 pm

    SDG: It’s very much a feedback cycle. As more individuals start making better choices, companies start providing better (or easier) choices, which lets more individuals make good choices. Corporations definitely have a role to play, but since the Story of Stuff is aimed at individuals, I felt that it should have focused more on the responsibility we have as people.

    Andy: Yeah, it’s been floating around the Internet for a while now. Food is definitely most of the “stuff’ I buy, but I also like getting games (card, board, video). I’ve cut back, but unlike books I can’t replace game-buying with the library. I should really see if I can swap games (especially board games; they’re so expensive and full of so much junk!) with some other people around here.

  4. 4

    Andy said,

    June 14, 2008 @ 12:01 pm

    Check out Anyone can list items they are willing to share. I haven’t looked at it in a while now, but it seemed like a good idea when I first saw it.

  5. 5

    George Carlin's still funny | said,

    June 23, 2008 @ 6:21 pm

    […] have read, George Carlin recently died of a heart attack. On my birthday this year, I posted about Carlin’s take on “stuff” (embedded […]

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