Laura picking up tiny plastic fragments because she’s the best person I know. We’d heard of the Great Pacific garbage patch before, but it’s hard to connect with environmental issues from your living room across the world. Stumbling upon it in real life was numbing, in a way that I’m still barely able to find the words to describe.
Kauai has some of the most beautiful beaches I’ve ever seen. Others were layered with plastic. Often, the picturesque and the plastic were the same beach.
Unlike the trash on the street in San Francisco or an unsightly dump outside of a city, the Pacific is infested with the waste of the whole world. Of each of us, of capitalism, of consumerism, of materialism, of humanity.
We can’t keep doing this to the planet.
On this day, Laura was picking up trash for a few hours. Every single wave brought new debris onto the beach. She left it a little better than she found it. We each need to do the same.
Here’s a closeup of the output of our society. Of mindless consumption. Of judging each other by what we each buy rather than how we relate to each other. Of status anxiety. Of advertising. Of the corrupt messages we’ve created around Christmas and gift-giving.
There are an estimated 5 trillion plastic pieces floating in the Pacific right now. 18.2 trillion tons of plastic have been produced since the 1950s, of which maybe 9% has been recycled. We’re on track to produce another 26.5 billion tons of it by 2015. Happy holidays.
Coincidentally, I’d picked up an issue of New Philosopher at the airport.
As I used my vacation to detox from social media, news & email, I marveled at how good it feels to have my attention again. To be able to read for longer than a paragraph at a time without rushing to check some newsfeed or another.
Anyway, this issue—which I highly recommend, if you can find it—is all about our wretched consumer culture. Reading it on a beach filled with our waste was poetic.
“This society is essentially a consumers’ society where leisure time is used no longer for self-perfection or acquisition of more social status, but for more and more consumption and more and more entertainment…To believe that such a society will become more “cultured” as time goes on and education has done its work, is, I think, a fatal mistake. The point is that a consumers’ society cannot possibly know how to take care of a world and the things which belong exclusively to the space of worldly appearances, because its central attitude toward all objects, the attitude of consumption, spells ruin to everything it touches.” — Hannah Arendt, Between Past and Future, 1961
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Jon Gold is a technologist, musician, and attention activist researching the long-term future of computation at Airbnb, focusing on the intersection of Artificial Intelligence & the creative process. Contact