John Thackara | Essays

Roasted by a Chicken

I did not realise, I swear, that my talk in New York this week, which is about design in a gift economy, will coincide with the city's huge 35,000 visitor International Gift Fair. Someone out there in gift-land is on is on the marketing ball, because they sent me an email the day after my talk was announced.

Perplexed, I risked a peek at the Gift Fair site. Bad idea. The ground fell away. I felt like one of those astronauts, cast adrift in space, floating helplessly away from the mother ship.

The gift fair website took me into a parallel universe that contains the chick-a-dee designer smoke alarm (shown in the photo above). The designer smoke alarm led on to a pink designer shopping cart that someone had left in a laundrette. And that led to the upside down plant pots below...

These "evolved gardening design" artefacts, I was told, will "purify the air, conserve water and transform your view of nature".

Of course they will. In fact, I'm very keen to introduce the upside-down nature team to my own advisor on all things natural, he's shown in the image below:

The talk next Monday, it seems, has become a contest between two different meanings of the word "gift". There's the kind that you pay for and that will transform your view of nature. And there's the kind that you don't pay for which is what I thought everyone meant by a gift economy until received the email about the chicken.

My starting point is this (I quote from the Pratt Institute website): "Jobs and money are in short supply — probably forever. Are there ways that design can add new value to sharing, bartering, lending, trading, renting, gifting, exchanging & swapping?".

Could there be a win-win space that unites us? Come next Monday, and we'll find out.

Jobs | July 18