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Deutsches Museum

I visited Munich for a conference on Re/Cycling, in other words the intersections of cycling history and recycling history. A weird concept for sure, but the recycling sessions were good. I managed to take some time off to see the Deutsches Museum.

Deutsches Museum

Tonomat

Typewriter

Love old radios

Pigeon-mounted spy camera


Kitchen Stories

I was thrilled to get the chance to go to an exhibit on the Frankfurter Kitchen and modern kitchen design at MoMA in New York recently. The exhibit was called “Counter Space” – here’s a link to the exhibit website.

Back in the day (more specifically, from 1999 to 2001) I wrote my master’s thesis on the debate over “the scientific kitchen” in Norway, 1900-1940, and the Frankfurter kitchen was a huge influence on this discussion (the thesis is available in fulltext here). I looked at how many well-to-do women who had previously had a maid increasingly needed to take over the housework themselves at the beginning of the 1900s. Being a maid was hard work, and many young women chose to instead seek work in the rapidly growing small-scale industry in Norway. Good maids suddenly were hard to come by. As a result, the modern Norwegian housewife came into being. They sought to not only make housework easier, but also to increase the status of the work in the home. The home was a workplace like any other. Nowhere was that more obvious than in the kitchen.

The international home economics movement attempted to improve the kitchen and make the work that took place there more rational. Margarete Schütte-Lihotsky designed a kitchen based on the ideals laid out by Christine Frederick and the home economics movement in the 1920s. The kitchen was intended to be affordable, efficient, and suitable for mass production.

The Frankfurt kitchen has become an iconic representation of the modern kitchen as laboratory. Inspired by ideas of efficiency and scientific management (also known as Taylorism), this kitchen is a great example of how knowledge and technologies circulate between producers and consumers, between factories and the home. The women who worked to promote scientific homekeeping had great hopes for the kitchen as a liberating space for women, a place where women could become part of modern society.

Some of the same ideals underpinned the famous Nixon-Khrushchev (sp.) kitchen debate in 1959, a recurring topic in a recent (and quite good) book on Cold War kitchens that I reviewed for Technology and Culture last year. In this TV-broadcast meeting of the two head-of-states, the high-tech kitchen on display in the American National Exhibition in Moscow came to represent the virtues of American technology.

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VxXT1A4zqcU&w=440]

It was a kitchen made at a time with a strong optimism and belief in science and technology. We can see some of the same story at work in the fantastic Norwegian movie, “Kitchen Stories,” from 2003. The trailer above (and the movie itself) is definitely worth seeing.

However, the result of all this activity in the kitchen between 1900 and 1960 is far from clear-cut. Yes, the kitchen is far more advanced and far more ergonomic, but as Ruth Schwarz Cowan’s classic study in history of technology shows, changing expectations of what a home should be actually made “more work for mother.”

All in all, the MoMA exhibit gave a very fascinating insight into this particular moment in time, where modern science and technology promised to transform the home. As a historian of technology, I enjoyed seeing the physical artifacts themselves, rather than just pictures reproduced in a book. I love teaching classes about the changing kitchen of the 20th century, and I definitely have some new material for this now.

All photos in this post by Finn Arne Jørgensen, released under a CC-BY License.



On personal maps

There has been some uproar the last few days about the spatial data embedded in the iPhone backups – which has been transmitted to Apple. Since Alexis Madrigal asked to see other people’s maps, out of curiosity, here’s mine. I used the free iPhone Tracker software made by Alasdair Allan and Pete Warden to generate these maps.

World Map

Here is my world map. As we can see, I spend most of my time in Northern Europe, but I’ve had several stops in the US. Of course, the data set is limited to the time since I bought my iPhone, which was about 8-9 months ago.

Looking closer at the US part, we see that I’ve been to Chicago, Seattle, Phoenix, and Santa Fe since buying my phone. Chicago sticks out as a pretty small dot – I have stopped at O’Hare a while flying to Phoenix and Seattle and must have turned on my phone. I did fly through Newark a few days ago, but must not have turned on the phone then, since it did not show on the map.

New Mexico

As we zoom in on New Mexico, we see clearly how the data points map out on a grid, and one might reasonably think that I did not physically go to all these locations. Supposedly, the iPhone found the location by triangulating to nearby cell phone towers. It seems like I spent much more time in Albuquerque (south) than in Santa Fe (north), which is not true at all. We flew to Albuquerque, but only spent one day there. The rest of the time we were in Santa Fe. One day we drove out to Bandelier National Monument, which we can also see to the northwest of the map.

Phoenix, AZ

Zooming in on Phoenix, we see two concentrations on the map. I assume the darkest dot is around the Wyndham Hotel, and going east we can see the results of our very interesting bus ride to the Phoenix Zoo (reminder to self: taking the bus in the US is something entirely different than in Northern Europe…) Further up we can see a big concentration of dots around Taliesin West. Interestingly, one can’t really see the drive out there.

Europe

Jumping over to Europe, we see much traveling back and forth between northern Norway and Sweden, and big dots for Stockholm and Oslo, and smaller dots for Roskilde and Florence.

Norway and Sweden

This is where it gets interesting. Here we see the results of our road trips between Umeå, Trondheim, and Mosjøen.

Finally, a zoomed in map of Umeå, the city I live in [sorry, this image got lost in a wordpress hack cleanup]. The grid is very obvious here, and the size of the dots do not accurately indicate where I’ve spent the most time (campus and my house). Instead, I think they must represent the cell phone antenna towers that register my phone the most often, and some of these must be bigger and more sensitive than others.

I like the stories that these maps tell. They also made me think of the way geotagging and mapping technologies have transformed our personal relationships to space. I wish that I had tagged every single one of the some 30,000 photos I have taken since I bought my first digital camera in the summer of 2004 (a Nikon D70, which I still use!) in time and space. I use Flickr and, increasingly, Picasaweb to share and make cloud backups of my photos, and both these services now have the option to display geotagged photos on maps. Flickr certainly seems like the best solution, since they can show all geotagged locations on a big map:

My Flickr map

Here the map becomes a real tool for exploring places.

Picasaweb, on the other hand, only gives a tiny, cursory option to see all photo locations on a tiny little map, To see more detail, you need to look at individual albums:

Picasaweb map of New Mexico

Here we see again a map from our New Mexico trip. Not all that different from the iPhone generated one above.

I think personal mapping like this is still somewhat underexplored. Most advanced smartphones automatically geotag photos taken with them now, and I see that some compact digital cameras have started getting built-in GPS receivers. What will happen when all photos we take are reliably geotagged? As the last few days’ Apple controversy has demonstrated, there will be some privacy issues, but I think it holds the potential for some real exciting personal mapping services.


On global waste and recycling flows

In the wealthy part of the Western world, we have come to think about recycling and resource reclamation as a something that is handled by anonymous technologies, more or less automatically, as long as we as consumers manage to put it in the right bin. Over at the always excellent The Atlantic, Adam Minter has been writing a series of posts called Wasted 7/7, which explores how much of the actual work of American recycling has been shipped abroad to Asia, where much of the labor is done by manual workers. This story can of course be told in many ways – for instance, one where the West ships its garbage to less developed parts of the world, which then have to struggle with pollution, health concerns, and labor inequalities and exploitation. And while there certainly is something to this interpretation (think, for instance of the stories of shipbreaking in India and Bangladesh), Minter wanted to draw our attention to another version of the story: “This is what happens when automobile-loving societies reach living standards so high that they can’t afford to take apart their old cars by hand anymore in order to recycle them.” Because of the surplus of cheap labor in parts of Asia, it is possible for scrap to get “recycled completely, providing a relatively clean alternative to mined, virgin materials,” and still be profitable (which is key to making business do anything green). Minter argues that China is “desperate to show environmental leadership” and that labor conditions actually are much better than one would think.

Chinese Metal Breaker. Photo from The Atlantic.

Minter tells an interesting story about how materials flow back and forth across the world. For instance, Minter notes that “recycled metal currently accounts for 25% of Chinese aluminum production, 40% of copper production, and 15% of steel production.” This gets shipped back to the US and elsewhere as part of new products. China’s scrap recycling industry has evolved into a “critical supplier of raw materials to respected manufacturers of iPhones, PCs, automobile engines, and other precision manufactured high-tech products.” In the end, Minter turns the exploitation story on its head:  “I simply can’t escape the feeling that the people being exploited are the Americans sending all that value to China.”

All in all, this is certainly worth reading. Minter is working on a book on the topic, which I am looking forward to seeing!

Here are links to all the posts in the series:

  1. The Motor Breakers of China
  2. The Plastics Shredders of China
  3. The Metal Shredders of Toyota
  4. The Metal Sorters of Shanghai
  5. The Metal Sorters North of Mumbai
  6. The Shipbreakers of China
  7. The Chinese Sample Room