The quandary of the local

Many of you have read my manifesto (a work in progress) and some have even been so kind as to provide useful comments and criticisms. I recently had my theories and intentions tested and placed into high contrast when I ordered a shiny new MacBook Pro (my 5th laptop since my first Powerbook 100 which I got in 1993). For some reason Apple offers all sorts of unwanted (by me at least) offers to sweeten the deal like free printers and ipods. Its hard to resist something free and I succumbed to a new ipod shuffle. Such a cute and seductive piece of gizmo jewelry. Being imbedded in my studio of late I ordered all of my new silicon based goodies on-line and they have been arriving in a strange summertime Christmas pageant throughout this week.

The iPod provides a perfect counterpoint to the admonition in my manifesto to buy, make and honor the ‘local’.

The tiny jewel-llike device arrived a few days after it was ordered, hand delivered by Fed-Ex to the door of my studio. VERY NICE.

Gizmo Jewelry

But what went into this contemporary shopping experience? Not even including the design, production of the item itself or the details of my on-line shopping operation, the arrival of this tiny gem was a marvel.

Firstly, my order was transmitted to Suzhou in China where my iPod was engraved, packaged and despatched. The following manifest shows its trip across the Bering Strait and down into the US by air and then by road to my door.

What a huge trip for such a tiny thing!

It arrived at my door pristinely packaged and ready to disclose its secrets.

Traveler's Chest

Gorgeous packaging

I know we’ve all experienced this moment, innumerable times.

The joy of a package in the mail.

The incredible detail, quality and functionality of contemporary electronics.

The sheer fun of having hundreds of songs or audiobooks or podcasts available at a thumbs press.

The guilty sin of being able to leverage international banking, unlimited (or at least unreasonable) credit, online shopping, off-shore manufacturing, international air freight and road shipping, door to door service, and individually custom-specified and detailed products.

And in this case, all for ‘FREE’, as a thank you for shopping with Apple.

It leaves me excited, fascinated and horrified all at the same time.

My friend Marty Marfin led me to the recent book Shaping Things by Bruce Sterling – “A manifesto for the future of design, impeccably crafted by Bruce Sterling and enhanced by the delicately emphatic graphic intelligence of Lorraine Wild…”.

Sterling creates some novel definitions for Artifact, Machine, Product, Gizmo and his newly coined ‘Spime’. His manifesto casts some interesting light on my thinking about the ‘local’. I wonder if my ambition for increasing the local focus of design is simply counter to the direction of the international interconnectivity and deeply information enriched design that Sterling sees as our irrevocable future. Have we passed what he calls a “Line of No Return” so that all objects can no longer operate merely as ‘artifacts’ but must be ‘gizmos’?

I recommend ‘Shaping Things’ to you as a provocative manifesto. And if you have any thoughts on this please leave a comment.


  1. This most recent post had me laughing out loud. Thank you for the thoughts Donald!


    1. “Laughing out loud”….
      I’m in a serious quandary here.
      What right do I, or anyone else, have to utilize the worlds resources in such a flagrant and self-indulgent fashion?
      And why is contemporary capitalism making it easier and easier, in fact harder and harder not to, take this path.
      Its driving me crazy! And you are laughing.
      Oh, callow youth!


  2. There’s been some interesting comments on this post through Facebook –
    Marty Marfin commented on your post.

    Marty wrote:
    “Glad you enjoyed “Shaping Things”, Donald. Thanks for the shout out. “Glocalism” may be inevitable, at least in a system of production and consumption beholden to stock-holders, but I suppose with the advent of the spime, wranglers will have ample opportunity to critique the large carbon footprint inherent in unnecessary around-the-world shipping just to get something engraved and delivered. I must say, though that Sterling is kind of a cheerleader for the positive possibilites of networked objects, and devotes minimal attention to the profoundly creepy potential of the spime. I guess I can understand that, after all, I prefer culture to imagine a world as it could/should be to negative didactism. BTW, I also highly recommend Sterling’s fiction, especially “Holy Fire”…”


  3. Some more Facebook comments –
    David Fobes commented on your post.

    David wrote:
    “Hey Donald, I have been thinking about that particular quandry ever since I first read your manifesto. I began to look around my studio to identify what might be local materials. Pretty much nothing.

    I was recently given some old paper library catalog cards, to use and recycle in a current project. They date back to early 80’s from a music and arts library in San Diego

    Even though they were probably originally printed in New York or Dayton,Ohio, I was wondering if once an item has logged time in a particular area, does it now have local capital?”


  4. More Facebook –
    Gregory Johnson commented on your post.

    Gregory wrote:
    “Well, if the product itself isn’t locally made at least the design is. The conundrum of supporting locally produced items is a hard one to wrap a head around.
    I like to think I’m supporting local creativity.
    In addition buying local food I support local shops and listen to predominantly local music. Even if the elements of our life are sourced globally we in the bay are lucky to benefit from the efforts of our local creative types.”


  5. Does all of this mean you are coming home soon? What are you doing being so far out of your “locality”?? I would love to have a local cousin to call on, and we could head down to our local van (with annex) for a local swim, and give up all of those dastardly carbonating overseas jaunts … but seriously, the quandary is admirable, if for nothing else than it is acknowledged. And you could always send it back!!!!
    With love from your far-away cousin, Anna xx


    1. Anna
      I’m glad you are reading along. I’m not sure if this reply gets to you through my wordpress page. Please email me back at to make sure you got it.
      Yes. Maybe my version of local includes a skinny little line drawn across the Pacific joining our house to yours. Sort of dumbbell shaped!
      I am looking forward to visiting your beach shack. Hopefully in the not too distant future. But I think we are staying put for a while after spending half of the last year on the road. So much to do here and so little time.
      Are you coming stateside anytime soon???


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