My five favourite things
Owning anything is so difficult these days. So much choice and yet very similar things. Things that are as Byung-Chul Han calls — Non-Things. I like his thesis on the changing nature of things. He critiques that objects used to have a certain level of permanence to them. We lived around them, and used phrases like "My grandfather's chair".
The terrestrial order is giving way to a digital order, the world of things is being replaced by a world of non-things – a constantly expanding ‘infosphere’ of information and communication which displaces objects and obliterates any stillness and calmness in our lives.
My critique is not that strong. I prefer to have things that improve my life, but some aspects of his commentary do resonate. Many things need constant attention in form of updates, charging, battery replacements, internet all the time, cables, thoughtful disposal, and obsolescence planning. Most cannot be repaired.
Here, I try to reflect on the top five products that have stuck with me. I carry them around. These products share these three common characteristics :
- Repairability : They can be easily and accessibly repaired. The repair is documented somewhere (iFixit, for example). If not, a nearby repair shop knows how to fix them. If it is consumable, it can easily be bought again. I talk about it in the last point.
- Durability : They last. Not forever, but a few times longer than many. They can take a hit or two. They are usually not disposable, as whole. You can swap parts to keep them functioning, like refills.
- Rebuyability : If I run out of them, I can re-buy them. They are not fast fashion or constantly changing. They are not an A/B market test or season feature. The people who make them believe in them and keep making them.
These products are :
Camper Beetle Shoes
Where : Mallorca, Spain, when I was giving a guest lecture at Camper.
Why : The shoes are crazy light and flat. If you walk a lot, you might like them. They have been with me for 3 years now. They do have signs of use. The sole is losing grip. The top suede is a bit dirty after I dropped a few drops of CNA glue on it. But regular cleaning still makes them look nice. It is still my favorite pair. The brand is a grassroots brand grown out of Spain and does quite experimental things. I call their designs very Barcelona, but hey! that is just me. Earlier I could go to the store and ask them to be cleaned, but that service has been discontinued after CoVID. If this pair breaks, I can buy them again. I do wish that Camper has a buy-back and repair service. The local Zapatero feels that the shoe is not highly repairable, but then he says, something can be done.
Where : New Delhi, India
Why : After owning a pebble and then a Xiaomi watch, I felt I worried too much about the watch I was wearing rather than just about the time it was keeping. Charging the watch. Updating the app. Updating the watch using the app. It started sounding too much of a hassle. The watch was taking more time. So, one day while hiking, when the 'smartwatch' stopped working, I missed the bus, I gave up and moved to this dumb watch — The classic F-91W. I mean, there is a wiki page for the watch. In our NFL Discord, we have a special channel dedicated to this watch. Countless times, I have bumped into people and had conversations about the watch. A fellow F91Wer, this bartender from Santander told me that he has had the watch for 6 years now and hasn't changed the battery. Once, he had forgotten the watch at his ex-girlfriend's place after a tough conversation. She was not talking or picking up calls. He had to 'send people' to get the watch. He laughed! I laughed. Salud! 🍻
I miss this thing- stories and objects. The conversations are mostly about the features and not about the stories that came out of owning these objects. If things are more durable, they last, and they accumulate memories. The time that flows around them becomes a Hanian - Narrative time, rather than just being a Point Time. Point time leads to anxiety, groundlessness, or Baudrillard's acceleration. Maybe one day, I will write about this more. Thinking about sustainability and product design from the lens of philosophy.
iPhone SE (Generation 1)
Where : Bought used in 2020 from Backmarket in Madrid.
Why : I was lured by the apple ecosystem as my work laptop is a MacBook and everyone around me uses an apple thing. Then one day my Samsung Note 4 stopped working. There was some motherboard issue. The costs were not worth it and hacking was not accessible. Europe is not the place where you can do the juggad we do in India. The culture is formal (possibly because it is homogenous). So, I had to buy a phone. I went straight to my friend from Bangladesh who runs a phone shop and asked for his recommendations. He recommended the older iPhones (5S and SE) as parts are still around and they are 'quite' durable. At that time, I did not have a European bank account as work paperwork takes ages, so I asked my friend Felipe to buy it for me and I gave him cash. Apart from some initial battery hiccups, the phone has been working fine and Apple has been keeping it updated. The battery lasts a day, the camera clicks nice pictures, and WhatsApp works!
Muji A6 Beige 30-page notebook
Where : Bought every month from Muji store in Calle de Fuencarral, Madrid.
Why : Years have passed and I finally found a notebook that I can buy again and again and again. My preferred size is the passport size as it fits easily in all my pockets, but they are usually more expensive, thinner, and not widely available. So, I moved to the A6 size. The Muji stores are in most places I go. So, If I run out, I can just buy from them without thinking too much. The paper quality is quite good. I can ink and paint in the notebook and the paper does not blot on either side. It does not have a hardcover, so, it can bend and take damage. The paper does not decompose on water damage. What else do I need in a notebook? 🤷🏽♂️
Pilot FriXion Pen
Where: Tokyo Hands, Shibuya, Tokyo, Japan with 3 free refills
Why : A pen that you can erase and the eraser does not get consumed. So cool! This is the science behind it. It comes in a sturdy plastic body. The refills last long and do not blot like many good gel pens. My go-to pen before this was a LAMY Nexx. I bought it while in Berlin, 3 years back. Refilled it endlessly and did two master's degrees with it. Then one day, it was lost. I tried other Lamy models (Safari and Joy), but none worked well for me ergonomically. The Nexx version of a LAMY can only be ordered on the website. The stores do not have them usually. So, I moved to this FriXion, that I bought in Japan. The erase feature is great. It is almost like a pencil. But if you freeze the notebook the words come back. It is like an infinite Undo + Redo but physical. It complements the Muji notebook. I have had this conspiracy theory that German pens work better on German paper, which is slightly coarse, while Japanese pens work well on Japanese Paper, which has a better surface finish. What do you think?