Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Decomposition - As as human activity

The other night I watched a great documentary on ABC TV the other night called Slumming It, hosted by Kevin McCloud.  You can watch Part 1 of that show at the following link:
YouTube - Slumming It Part 1
The documentary was shot in Dharavi (India's largest slum) which has been built on top of a dump.  The slum was said to be home to over 1 million people.  The footage showed scenes which were, to a first-worlder... pretty horrific!

In one scene, people washed their clothes in water into which fed an open sewer.  Another scene showed a new load of raw garbage being unloaded into the slum and then you saw loads of slum dwellers climb over the garbage looking for anything of value.

Yet amid all of this, the people looked happy and, amazingly, the clothes they wore were immaculate.

While watching the show I couldn't help but ask myself whether this is where we have come from, where are headed, or, is it where we are now?  These people live amid sewers and scavenge through rubbish to survive and yet they just think of it as life.  How hard it must be to evaluate the quality of your existence when it is all you know?

I also thought of the decomposition - of breaking things down and extracting anything of value from them - as being analogous with the human activity.  In a shrinking economy, could it be that this could be a more valued skill in developed economies too?  The ability to pour over quantities of products and decompose them into their constituent parts to find valuable elements?

In the past, we have been a very wasteful society.  Filling our houses and sheds with old, unused PCs, TVs, clothes, everything.  In a more scarce future, could it be that decomposition and recycling the old into new things of value could be a more vital human activity?

Is this what Prince Charles meant when he referred to Dharavi as a model for sustainability and as a model for "cities of the future"?


  1. What do you mean "in the past we have been a very wasteful society"? We are very wasteful. I tend to agree that this de-composition will be a valued trait or skill in the future if not already in many places.

    This also highlights that the "art of happiness" is not found through the many awesome resources we have at our disposal but rather how we use them and our appreciation of them.

    Nice post Darren.

  2. Thought provoking post Darren!

    Re: wasteful. I agree that on an individual level that most people are wasteful.

    I do think that many industries are quite resourceful though, and find ever inventive ways to package and sell waste products to us. I.e. while there is little financial incentive for the individual to reuse/recycle, there is still a good business case for doing it en masse.

    Currently, our 'decomposition' industries are clearly overlooked and undervalued, yet as resources decline, perhaps they will become the new mining companies.