Someone Thought of That

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After a whirlwind end to spring term, a jaunt back to the west-coast, and a relocation to Ohio for my summer internship, I’m finally settled enough to blog again. Luckily, I had the perfect inspiration today.

This afternoon I went out to lunch with my new roommate, and I’d never been in his car before. As I pulled the handle to get in, I didn’t feel any response from the door, so I assumed it hadn’t unlocked properly. I began to wait politely for my friend to realize I was locked out, but he had actually been supervising the whole time from his side, certainly in anticipation of this problem. When I looked up, he informed me that his door was sort of “stuck.” I pulled the handle again, felt no response, but when I actually pulled past the handle’s range of motion, the door swung open no problem.

As a student of engineering and design, I can’t help but smirk whenever one of these delightful features comes to my attention; something that’s taken for granted but that, none-the-less, someone thought of. Somewhere in history, someone realized or identified that people would appreciate a confirming response that the car was indeed unlocked and that the door handle was working properly, and so the latch mechanism was designed to also lever the door open just a crack.

There’s a delightful, enlightened feeling in breaking through the mindlessness and identifying these features. It’s also intriguing to think about discrepancies in our expectations of the same technology. What it would be like if a door to a house popped open a bit as the knob was turned? What if a door to a house had a lever latch or a door to a car had a knob?

I’m no psychologist, but I’m extremely passionate about sustainability, and breaking through the mindlessness is, after several decades, still one of the most important frontiers of sustainability. Convenience is a big culprit; what starts as someone’s idea for making an experience more convenient becomes expected, an idea like providing disposable shopping bags at stores. There is thus a two-fold approach to changing some habits. Before people can be convinced to change, they need to first discover that their behavior is indeed a habit, one choice out of many possibilities. Shopping bags are a great example because it is a spreading initiative; some municipalities have come so far as to enact structural changes, but here in Ohio I wonder if some people would interpret advice to not use disposable bags as advice to not go shopping at all.

When it comes to spreading change, knowing whether to encourage change right away or first just offer alternatives could make a difference. And I sincerely hope that more and more facts of life will be revealed as just something that someone thought of once, something with an alternative. This hope is partially because such revelations are personally delightful, but it will also be crucial in advancing sustainability.

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