Brain Pickings

Posts Tagged ‘sustainability’

14 APRIL, 2011

IOU Project: Social Technology Meets Artisanal Tradition

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“Transparency.” “Accountability.” “Sustainability.” “Authenticity.” In recent years, these moral ideas have been reduced to fluff-phrases empty of meaning, sprinkled atop just about every Fortune 500 corporate mission statement like some sort of odor-masking miracle candy on a sundae of bollocks. But what if they were to be taken in untainted hands, looked at with new eyes, resurrected with new spirit?

That’s what IOU Project is out to do. They produce handmade apparel from fabrics hand-woven in India. Because each textile is unique, you can trace the production process of your particular garment right back to the exact weaver who hand-wove the fabric using the IOU mobile app. The project is part storytelling experiment, part ecommerce venture, part social meeting place for a community that shares these values of authenticity and purpose, bridging centuries-old artisanal traditions with the promise of modern social technology.

In the rush to automate the world, artisans are being replaced with machines.”

Besides having what’s easily the most thoughtful visual identity we’ve seen in a while, IOU also features a number of beautifully filmed, warmly candid videos that capture the people and process behind the project.

IOU Project is still in stealth mode, but you can sign up for a heads-up about the official launch on the site, or follow them on Facebook and Twitter for updates.

via Meta Filter

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01 APRIL, 2011

Moby-Duck: A Quest for the Story Behind Bathtime

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How a student assignment led to an around-the-world adventure, or what Eric Carle has to do with environmentalism.

Ever really stopped to wonder where rubber duckies come from? Neither had we, until reading an utterly engrossing and unusual account of the ubiquitous yellow bath icons. Donovan Hohn’s Moby-Duck: The True Story of 28,800 Bath Toys Lost at Sea and of the Beachcombers, Oceanographers, Environmentalists, and Fools, Including the Author, Who Went in Search of Them, out this week, is a paragon of longform non-fiction journalism. (And, at 27 words, the book’s subtitle sells its contents but only hints at the absorbing exploits contained within its pages.)

Hohn was a New York City-based English teacher and self-proclaimed “would-be archaeologist of the ordinary” when, one semester, a student’s assignment presented him with an impossible-to-resist tale: In 1992, several cargo ship containers were lost at sea, snapping free during a violent storm during their charted course from China to the U.S. The resulting spill sent a haul of floating ducks, beavers, frogs, and turtles cascading into the Arctic, with the survivors washing up on Maine shores as much as a decade later. Hohn’s spark of interest would lead him to follow an obsessive oceanographer to Alaska, Hawaii, and eventually back to its origin in Guangdong province to satisfy his initial curiosity.

[Q]uestions, I’ve learned since, can be like ocean currents. Wade in a little too far and they can carry you away. Follow one line of inquiry and it will lead you to another, and another. Spot a yellow duck dropped atop the seaweed at the tide line, ask yourself where it came from, and the next thing you know you’re way out at sea, no land in sight, dog-paddling around in mysteries four miles deep.

Hohn has a dramatist’s feel for pacing that left us breathless despite knowing, from the outset, how the story ends — or so we thought. Seamlessly interweaving reflections on his impending fatherhood with lessons about global supply chain economics, Moby-Duck pulls off an increasingly difficult feat: getting us to care about the impact of our consumption on our planet. We were thoroughly entertained by Hohn’s portrayals of the eccentric cast of characters surrounding the wayward bath toys, and hypnotized by his great storytelling gifts.

I pictured the ducks afloat like yellow pixels on the vast, gray acreage of the waves, or skiing down the glassy slopes of fifty-foot swells, or coasting through the Arctic on floes of ice. I imagined standing on a beach somewhere in Newfoundland or Maine–places I had never visited or given much thought. I imagined looking out and seeing a thousand tiny nodding yellow faces, white triangles glinting in their cartoon eyes, insipid smiles molded into the orange rubber of their clownish bills.

We hope that Moby-Duck makes a splash — pun fully intended — in proportion to its sweeping exploration of contemporary life’s complexities.

Kirstin Butler is writing an adaptation of Gogol for the Google era called Dead SULs, but when not working spends far, far too much time on Twitter. She currently lives in Cambridge, MA.

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30 MARCH, 2011

Underwater Sculptures Help Corals Thrive

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What metal sculptures have to do with your DNA and the future of the world’s oceans.

In 2009, underwater sculptor Jason de Caires Taylor — whom we had the pleasure of profiling for Wired UK a long, long time ago — founded MUSA (Museo Subacuático de Arte), the world’s first underwater museum and an inspired intersection of art and environmental science. These artworks, admired by over 750,000 visitors every year, are designed to become artificial reefs that provide a unique habitat for the ocean’s most fragile and remarkable creatures: Corals, and their many marine companions.

This year, artist and TED fellow Colleen Flanigan was invited to join the project with some of her Biorock designs. As the temperature and acidity of the world’s oceans continue to rise under the effects of global warming, these new sculptures offer corals a vital alkaline environment: Using a low-voltage electrical current, the installations raise the pH of seawater to attract limestone minerals, which adhere to the metal matrix and help corals get the calcium carbonate they need to build their exoskeletons. So Colleen is gathering the necessary arsenal — welding equipment, metal, supplies, power sources, boat rentals, SCUBA tanks — and hiring a professional filmmaker to capture the incredible journey. And she’s funding it on Kickstarter, our favorite platform for microfunding creative projects.

Corals are near the root of the family tree of all living animals. Humans have put these ancestors on the evolutionary tree in peril. We want to give coral back its color through life-supporting underwater Biorock formations.” ~ Colleen Flanigan

The project embodies our highest ideals, a beautiful cross-pollination of art, science and moral imagination, so please join us in supporting it — it’s the best-intentioned $10 (or $100, or $1000) you’ll spend today, we promise.

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