File this under: demand generating more demand. Our consumption of things only necessitates further consumption. The system requires it:

Twenty years later, and electricity suppliers faced a problem: there were pronounced peaks and valleys in the demand for their electricity. Electrical consumption rose slightly in the early morning, fell to almost nothing during the day, and then peaked again as it got dark in the evening.

However, to meet morning and evening demand, suppliers had to continue generating at peak level output throughout the day. Big power stations can’t be adjusted up or down from hour to hour, and storing the quantities of energy they generate wasn’t (and generally still isn’t) practical or economical. Thus, a way to increase demand outside of peak hours was needed, and electrical appliances proved successful at doing just that. If you can’t, or don’t wish to, cut back production, then try to manufacture demand—the story of the twentieth century?

In the early 1900s, AEG (now known as the house-hold appliances manufacturer AEG-Electrolux) was primarily a generator of electricity. In 1907 Peter Behrens, perhaps the first industrial designer, was hired as a consultant to find ways to increase demand for electricity during the day. His solution? The first electric kettle, developed for AEG and produced in 1909. That year is also considered by those in the know to be when the first commercially successful electric toaster was launched by the Edison General Electric Company, the model D-12.

from Thwaites, Thomas. The Toaster Project: Or A Heroic Attempt to Build a Simple Electric Appliance from Scratch

The implications for this can be seen all around. Accumulate too much stuff? Get a bigger house. Can’t afford the bigger house you want? Work more to generate more widgets to accumulate wealth to buy a bigger house. Bigger… more! Progress. At some point, we’ll have to understand that the progress we perceive is not progress at all; that consumption is not progress. Progress comes from within. It comes from leading an examined life.

The Toaster Project really is an excellent read. I’d highly recommend it to anyone interested in the current state of manufactured things.

Jay Margalus is on Twitter at @jaymargalus

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