A smarter bag

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The plastic lunch container aboard this Chinese train takes cues from bento (though, like so many things, the original bento were made in China). The packaging on my disposable chopsticks wishes me “Peace” – in your context, consider whether there are standardized messages that inanimate objects tend to wish upon/for users/consumers. The smiling face of “Have a nice day” comes to mind in an American context. What if instead of a generic message, the abundance of disposable objects and containers given to consumers by various service providers could share more useful/relevant information?

Taken a step further, consider the implications of the near future when supercheap sensors have made their way into (what were once considered, in more resource-rich contexts, “disposable”) containers and bags, enabling a thick new mass of data – from an aural/visual confirmation upon opening your disposable chopsticks that they are in fact sanitized, to your bento updating you as to the progress towards daily dietary intakes you have satisfied as you actively consume (or choose not to consume) its contents. As certain contexts have come around to charging for limited-use plastic grocery bags now (or, in some cases, stopping giving them out entirely), perhaps this will herald a redefinition of value. As more food for thought, ponder what you would feel comfortable with your grocery bag “knowing” and/or publicly sharing about you. Perhaps the broadcasting of your relative share of junk food/fruits and vegetables (by mass or value – its choice) compared to other shoppers being checked out at the same time (the stuff of a Bloombergian nudge-fantasy), to continuously updating you as you load it regarding how near it is to its recommended weight limit.

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Of course, there’s always the myriad of “non-designed uses” to consider as well. This 7-11 bag, complete with its own (perhaps unintentionally cheeky and vapid) statement of “Always open!”, is a member of the colorful variety of sizes and materials of containers in a Taibei pedestrian underpass (an informal shelter for the city’s homeless). For each distinct culture, context, and user, the spectrum of what passes for vital, useful, useless, and harmful information varies widely.

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