Daily Paradox - Written by John Bittleston on Tuesday, April 24, 2012 5:41 - 4 Comments
The Umbrella Syndrome
A well-known street hawker had his summer stand on the corner of Westminster Bridge opposite the Houses of Parliament in London. He sold only two products – T-shirts and umbrellas thus catering for the weather needs of visitors to London.
We used to cross a city to retrieve an umbrella inadvertently left in a restaurant or shop. Taxi drivers were inundated with calls asking if they had found our weather protector. People eyed each other’s possession suspiciously because they all looked so alike. I knew a man who carried two in case he lost one. It would be wrong to say our lives were dominated by the ‘gamp’ but it certainly played a big part.
Today half the umbrellas in the stand in our entrance hall do not belong to us. We ‘borrow’ and ‘lend’ them as easily as we swop cups of coffee or gossip about the neighbours. The umbrella has become a universal possession taken when required, left behind when not. This makes sense. Why did it take so long for it to happen?
Two things brought about the change. Umbrellas got cheaper, a smaller part of most people’s outlay. Loss of one was not banker-threatening any more. At the same time we began to realise that possessions, with few exceptions, are not essential to the survival of our egos. Functional equipment like an umbrella can be shared to good effect. If I know I can pick one up anywhere when it starts to rain then I don’t need to carry one.
Could the umbrella syndrome spread to other parts of our lives? Certainly. In cities like Barcelona, Paris, Lyon, Washington, Helsinki and, of course, all over that cyclists paradise, The Netherlands, bicycles are public property and can be borrowed or rented with ease. You pick one up when you need it, leave it at your destination when you have finished with it.
Community ownership is well established all over the world. Mostly it is confined to what have become known as public services. Beyond these, our assets are generally private. As Christopher Lasch says: ‘The model of ownership, in a society organized round mass consumption, is addiction.’ That is so well illustrated by the army of white collar workers lugging around heavy computers when all they need is a thumb drive.
Now that we are building integrated cities, where office and home are often the same, might we consider that the age of possessions is coming to an end? Do we realise how much energy would be saved if we did not have to cart our belongings on our backs?
We do not want to become, as Frank Lloyd Wright fears, janitors of our possessions.
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by John Bittleston
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Companies that have a culture of recognising that a team is a group of individuals dedicated to a common cause – but individuals first, last and all the way through – is worth investing in.