Thursday, December 27, 2007

Get The Big Knife, Crissy

Look, I know I'm supposed to be pleasant. But I'm having a hard time. Maybe I should commit ritual suicide instead of complaining.

Get the big knife Crissy!

I read an article at Wired called Home Sweet Gadget: How Our Technolust Helped Bring Down The Housing Market by Daniel McGinn, and it struck me as so profoundly shallow and ill-reasoned and ill-informed and... and... oh dear God in heaven forgive me but do they allow you to have a laptop on the short bus? The author is a BC grad and has an MBA. But I don't think his family should let him out of the house without a helmet on.

Let me save you some time. His supposition is that "the US housing market is experiencing its sharpest downturn since the Great Depression," and "Of course, the desire for high tech isn't solely responsible for the bust (low interest rates and insane lending practices, anyone?), but it is surely a contributing factor."

It's a fool's errand to try to torture his tortured logic in a coherent argument to laugh at; the whole thing reads like little more than a melding of pop-culture nonsense buzzwords like "bust" and "McMansion" and "technolust" mixed in with nursing home monikers for anything remotely electronic like "gewgaw" and "gadget." Then he trots out "Dr. No" like it's a cutting edge reference.

If I followed it through correctly, no one wants to live in a "charming 1920s three-bedroom craftsman.." because it " ...wasn't built to accommodate all these new devices, much less modernized subsystems like updated electrical, solar power, or flexible plastic plumbing." So according to him, builders haven't built enough homes that have speakers in the walls, or some utility vaguely worthy of a 2.0 at the end of its name, and simultaneously no one bought those houses because there are too many of them. He didn't explain exactly where everyone went, since they refuse to live in their old house but refuse to buy the new ones as well. I guess the WiFi signal under the bridge is so good that everyone is living there now, while bankers mow the lawns of their abandoned houses.

He's got a book. Here, let me summarize: Snobs don't like it when average people get their hands on decent stuff and big houses, and think they should know their place and go back to ranch houses with formica counters and two bedrooms. Also, if you go looking for neuroses out in the landscape, you'll find them, especially if you bring along an ample supply of your own. The End.

Nothing he wrote makes a lick of sense. How do you get book deals and magazine gigs and write like that? Seriously, I want to know.

Bring me the big knife, Crissy, I'm going to kill myself.

I could jape at him, or poke holes in his logic, such as it is, or cavil about his facts, which aren't factual, but I'm not going to. I will mention that his suggestion that homes need to be made into a sort of cross between a dorm room and an office cubicle should earn him a sentence of transportation. To another galaxy, preferably:

"Some architectural thinkers have begun to advocate adapting construction methods used for commercial office buildings to the residential housing market — dropped ceilings and raised floors allow for easier electrical and plumbing retrofits."

Listen, the Victorians through the Eisenhower generation integrated electricity, the telephone, indoor plumbing, the automobile, the radio, television, central heating, and dozens of other more profoundly useful and game-changing utilities into their houses without breaking a sweat. The idea that housing is deficient because you're such a lotus eater that you can't find a place to plug in an Xbox is absurd. Most"gadgets" that can't be integrated properly into the home easily are simply too poorly designed to be integrated with anything else. (You can always tell when someone's typing on an Apple.) That's the real problem, if there is one. And the reason there's a bust in housing, which is nowhere near the apocalyptic size it's described as, is that the dirt underneath the house is worth less, not the house.

"Some architectural thinkers." Heh. Try that sentence with the emphasis on "some."

Some architectural thinkers, huh?

(There's a fascinating subtext in the article no one noticed. I did. More tomorrow.)


liverpool said...

I work every week on houses up to 400 years old..retrofitting for modern living just requires thought and the odd compromise..easy realy.

Gerard said...

"You can always tell when someone's typing on an Apple."


Okay, brainiac, is this on my Apple or my PC?

Get the bigger knife before you even think to answer.

SippicanCottage said...


Everyone knows Gerard is typing on his Commodore 64, while listening to Partridge Family eight tracks.

Steve F said...

Well said. And, if you live out here where the housing market is always slow, it's hard to notice the difference.

As to old houses being fit for electronic geegaws and whatsits, I bet one of these numbers would hold your ipod and a laptop. You could park it by the DSL line and set your router on top, too.

SippicanCottage said...

Hah! Steve, that's awesome. I'm in an inversion loop or a Fibonacci sequence or a Dicta Boelcke or deja vu or something.

Becky said...

My husband is a builder, both new houses and renovations / remodelings. We're in rural western Canada, and while the economy is booming up here (for now at least), our little corner isn't particularly techno-lusty.

For the 13 years that we've been married, many clients have wanted new houses and some have bought lovely older houses on nice property only to knock the older house down and start from scratch. They seem to be motivated more by animal/human nature, being able to put one's own imprint, make one's own mark, on a house.

I've also noticed that no-one seems content with what used to be called a "starter home" anymore -- it has to be huge and have all sorts of bells and whistles. But even with all the bells and whistles and linked components, chances are the next buyer to come along will be willing to raze, or at least substantially renovate, those geegaws. To make his own mark...

John J. Coupal said...

The book's author is a BC grad, you say.

As a non-New Englander, I have come to the conclusion that there is a world of difference between BC and BU.

I would trust something written by a BU grad or faculty member.