Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Design of Our Lives

     A few days ago, I saw a documentary called Urbanized, which was about the design of cities.  Among several interesting things contained therein (including, for instance, why movable chairs are preferable to fixed-in-place chairs for public seating), something particularly struck me.  The point was made that everything in a city is designed.  That is, everything we see and experience and interact with in a city has been specifically conceived so that we interact with it in an intended way.  The trees throughout a city, someone noted, are placed by design.  This, I suppose, should not come as a terrible shock.  I never really thought that we built a city and left holes in the bottom of it for trees to grow up where they wanted to.  But it seems that even the height of the trees is designed.  Presumably, types of trees are chosen so that their height will offer a particular amount of shade over a certain area, not interfere with artificial light from lamposts, be set back far enough from the street so as not to cause trouble for people parking cars.  This is a level of design detail governing my interaction with the world that I had not expected.
     So, you get to thinking, is this only true of cities?  Are more rural environments less design-heavy?  Well, imagine looking down from an airplane at those huge, perfectly constructed square and rectangular sections of landscape.  Those didn't grow that way by themselves.
     Just how much are our lives defined by the design of others?  Is that just how human beings adapt to and tame their environments, by designing them to human specification?  Just how far does the design of others determine who we are?
     There's a book in here somewhere.


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