In my column ‘Packaging the Future’, I’ve looked at the myriad ways the materials around us contribute to environmental pollution and human health issues (from manufacturing, use and disposal). I’ve suggested existing solutions to what I think of as “bad packaging”, as well as some that are only supposition. But even though I love to dork out on new and old packaging fixes, there are a few spots where I don’t want to see the new overtake the old; where even though a more modern version of something might use fewer resources and be more planet and people-friendly, I still choose the vintage version. For a modern woman, I’m plenty nostalgic, but I also think that maybe, in some circumstances, certain things may be worth the resources they use.
Among readers, it’s been a constant debate for at least the past decade, and especially the last five years: When will you defect to an e-reader? As a regular globetrotter (most of my family lives in Australia, and I live on the opposite side of the Earth), I feel the strain of carrying books more than most I know. Being an incredibly avid consumer of books, I don’t pack a suitcase without at least one novel and two nonfiction tomes. I avoid hardcovers, and try to save slimmer volumes for my trips, but three books (and then there are those that I pick up on my wanderings) are a heavy weight on my shoulders, literally – I hate rollie bags and carry my luggage. Even when I’m not headed for a far-flung locale I’m lugging books, since I split my ‘home’ time between the Connecticut shoreline and Manhattan; when I first started sharing space with my boyfriend the first things I left at his place were my toothbrush, contact solution and a pile of books (which has now grown to two shelves – since he is a reader and writer too, he thankfully has absolutely no issues with this!). So more than anyone I know, I have cause to invest in an e-reader. And yet, I just can’t bring myself to do it. I’m an early adopter when it comes to other tech, but I feel a weird sadness whenever I’ve picked up a Nook or Kindle at the store to try them out.
So even though it makes no sense to cut down trees, process them into pulp, bind and ship them all over the country, (not to mention the fuel that I use in transporting them everywhere with me), I’m still carrying books (though I do try to buy plenty of second-hand copies to mitigate at least some of these effects). But if anything is worth the energy and destruction of trees, I would argue that books are.
We’re never going back to the 70’s or 80’s when everyone who bought music invested in their own LP’s. But record sales are up after a long decline, and for those people passionate about sound quality (not to mention old-school DJ’s), records are the only way to go. Unless you have a pretty high-end system, I would argue that the sound quality from an analog player versus digital downloaded music is pretty significant. Digital can be great, but put an average or good-quality record player against a Bose iPod player loaded with music, and one sounds likes bits and bytes (perfectly fine, but always too perfect and clean), while the other sounds like something alive, genuine and complex with the imprint of time and physical effects, not to mention a realness that a music journalist could explain in technical terms, but I can’t. But I can hear it.
So while records are similarly resource-intensive as opposed to digital downloads, like books, there is also a quality issue here. I think records on a record player sound better, period. Though of course even more so than with books, the portability issue is also highlighted in a more extreme way. Still, for home listening, nothing beats the real thing running right ’round. And as is the case with books, there’s more than enough vintage and used records floating around that there’s little to no need to buy records new.
I love Facebook birthday, Christmas, Valentine’s and Arbor Day greetings, but there’s nothing like a card received in the mail to make one feel truly special. And while I’m a huge advocate of cutting down on junk mail, and regularly call catalog companies to take me off their lists, who doesn’t love getting a real letter (or even a postcard) in the mail? I’ve taken to sending myself, my friends and my boyfriend cards too. Who cares if you get back before your card makes it home? A greeting to oneself from a specific place on your vacation reminds you of that time and place when you wrote it. I still have postcards I sent myseld from my first trip to Amsterdam when I was 20 scribbling them in a cafe.
When I was a kid, my friend and I used to explore abandoned houses in our woodsy hometown. One of them was filled with letters from before and during WWII, and I spent hours reading through them, imagining the lives of the people who wrote them – what they looked like and how they dressed. I sometimes wonder in this age of electronic everything, what we will leave behind for kids to find. Just broken-down modular IKEA furniture and white-walled rooms filled with wires and cords? Sometimes tangible beats intangible; sometimes things should have a permanent imprint.
Starre Vartan is founder and editor-in-chief of Eco-Chick and author of The Eco-Chick Guide to Life (St. Martin’s Press). A green living expert, she contributes to The Huffington Post and Mother Nature Network (MNN.com)