Bags full of weapons

Men got along fine for quite some time without carrying purses. Why the need now?

The obvious, short answer is gizmos. The number of iPods, cell phones, and handheld computers has increased exponentially, whereas the number of pockets has stayed pretty much the same (cargo pants, of course, being the valiant exception).

But is there any more to it than that? Thomas Hine, a design historian who can wax eloquently for paragraphs about . . . potato chips (and does, in Populuxe), hints that there is. In a short email to the author of an otherwise banal article in the Washington Post about “carrying stuff,” Hine calls out the proto-military nature of our newfound accoutrements. He starts with the Sony Walkman, introduced almost thirty years ago. The Walkman, he says,

probably set the precedent; it allowed people to be physically in a space, but mentally detached. The plethora of “communications” devices we carry are also tools of isolation from the immediate environment. And, in the words of the recruiting ad, we each become “an army of one” carrying all our tools of survival through a presumably hostile world.

Our expanded translation: Tools of recall and communication have become agents of detachment, leading to withdrawal, defense, . . . militarism! Bags full of gear to defend ourselves from an encroaching urban jungle, when really we just want to be on an island somewhere, talking to our buddies about Hootie and the Blowfish. Armed with bags and gadgets, we are all Indiana Jones.

Ah, to have majored in American Studies! Yet we are stuck here, writing glibly about men’s handbags.

If only Hine’s brilliance and facility at drawing connections between design objects and zeitgeist could rub off on us. Or on the Post Style reporter, Linton Weeks, whose smartly crafted turns of phrase in the remainder of the article fail to enlighten:

Perhaps it’s because we are multitaskers. Or because we’re insecure. Maybe we are becoming more independent. Whatever the reasons, we are more and more burdened by our belongings.

Sounds depressing. We’ll take the man bag full o’ survival gear instead, thanks.

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