What's in a Toaster? The Cost of Convenience

What's in a Toaster? The Cost of Convenience

Cambria Bold
Apr 23, 2010

In last month's issue of Metropolis, we read a very interesting article about British design student Thomas Thwaites who took apart his toaster and tried to remake it from scratch. Curious about where things come from, and about "the grand scale processes that are hidden in mundane everyday objects as well as the economies of modern scale in modern industry," Thwaites designed a toaster to make a comment on waste, production processes, and cheap products that never honestly represent their true costs—and to point out that companies aren't particularly interested in solving those issues.

The finished built-from-materials-he-could-access-himeself toaster.

Here's an excerpt from the article:

What Thwaites offers up is almost a philosophy of toast: we don't need toast; it's just a nice thing... Toast via toasters is one of those things that have become entitlements in the developed world. (Toast is a pain to make in an oven under the broiler, and over an open fire it isn't really practical. I tried to live without a toaster for a couple years, until my British husband prevailed.) As Thwaites writes, "In terms of toasters if everyone else has [one] and I don't, well I'll feel a bit hard done by, and go buy a toaster if I can afford it. The fact that wealth is relative is I think, one thing that drives the economy. It's not that people have 'infinite wants' just that no one wants to be at the poor end of the scale."
He started by taking apart his Argos toaster. It had 404 parts, including the 42 individual copper wires entwined to make the power cord, and 17 or so different metals and alloys. He was practical (in a sense) and reduced his materials to five: steel, plastic, copper, nickel, and mica. The search for some of these had him visiting abandoned mines that had been shuttered or turned into visitors' centers because they were no longer economically feasible. At one, he got iron ore from a display case; unable to find another mine, he got lost in the remote hills of Scotland while looking for outcroppings of mica. He collected copper from puddles in Wales and extracted it via electrolysis...

Curious about why and how his toaster turned into the weird creation you see above? Read the whole article at Metropolis.

(Images: Metropolis)

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