The images are gorgeous! The clean, colorful design of “icesave” and the images of solid Icelandic ice and rock convinced people to pour billions of dollars into a savings plan, based in Iceland, that today is a complete bust. The original, gorgeous design of the icesave Web site, once a showpiece of elegance, authority and artful design is now a red-and-black warning to consumers that icesave is gone and investors should beware of scams that might pry further financial information from them.
Former emblems of trust—globally celebrated pinnacles of authority—are gone. Maybe we all should be more careful about the beautiful images we chase in the global marketplace.
That’s the stark message of Dejan Sudjic’s brand-new “The Language of Things: Understanding the World of Desirable Objects.”
On one level, it’s a book that has nothing to do with spirituality.
But, if we truly understand what Dejan is writing here—then this is a profoundly spiritual book for our time. That’s partly because this isn’t some sour old Puritan wagging his finger at us, telling us that enticing artistry is a sin—and we should have known better. No, Sudjic ranks among the most influential figures in the world of contemporary design. He’s head of the UK’s famous Design Museum and is known internationally for his critiques of commercial art and architecture.
What he’s saying right now is very important. Here is his four-word conclusion after 200 pages of reflections on our universal attraction toward beautiful things—pictures, cars, buildings, beverage containers, watches and even the faces of celebrities. We’ve developed an insatiable appetite for these attractive lines and shapes, he says. We’ve binged horribly, he says, and now—here are Sudjic’s four words:
“After excess comes sobriety.”
There will be a period of remorse, a short dark age (more like a “dark season” given the rapid pace of our culture) when we all try to diet from our over-consumption and we all make big promises about strict limits. Sudjic writes one very provocative passage in his book in which he argues that our current systems of “cap and trade” to offset large-scale carbon footprints are really a return to the medieval church’s practice of selling indulgences.
But let’s not kid ourselves, he writes. And I agree with him on this. Consumption already is welling up inside of us like a too-strict dieter just waiting to tear into that fresh bag of Oreos (and top it off with a pint of Haagen-Dazs). Not even a tragic, costly collapse like icesave will keep financial tides from heading back to Scandinavia eventually, he writes.
If you’re still scratching your head over the spiritual wisdom in this book, then consider how closely Sudjic’s description of our dangerously shrinking moment in history—a time of enforced sobriety and self denial in which we are likely to burst out in impulsive new ways—mirrors what President Obama was talking about so prophetically at Notre Dame on Sunday.
Obama put it this way: “We must find a way to reconcile our ever-shrinking world with
its ever-growing diversity – diversity of thought, of culture, and of
belief. In short, we must find a way to live together as one human family.” (CARE TO READ MORE? We’ve got the president’s entire, stirring speech right here. And, we’ve got a savvy commentary on its significance by Father Thomas Reese, SJ, as well.)
SO, HERE’S WHERE SUDJIC IS MOST HELPFUL in these discussions I hear so many people starting these days: Most of us agree with him (and our president) about the current state of our global culture. Most of us are talking about solutions like “authority.” I’ve been in countless conversations since January in which people say, “Well, now, in a time of such enormous change, it’s all about authority. Who do we trust?”
Sudjic doesn’t answer that question with the A-word: “authority.” He answers with a new, closely related phrase: “engineered desire.”
What he’s adding to this conversation is a crucial truth: Authority doesn’t simply descend fully formed from on high (well, with the exception of the world’s great religions, perhaps). Authority is built over time. And we all have to make decisions about how we will “design” what we are producing to build any sense of authority.
Here at ReadTheSpirit, our 10 Founding Principles are the central elements of our design—of our authority—to this day.
But what do you think? So many of our readers now are independent entrepreneurs—part time workers, online writers, students preparing for an ever-changing future, activists and countless men and women who realize that their current employers aren’t going to provide for their future.
So we’re all asking: How do we build authority in our own lives and work? How do we show people that they can trust us? To use Sudjic’s phrase, how do we “engineer desire” for our work in this new world?
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(Originally published at https://readthespirit.com/)