Thursday, October 28, 2010

Unraveling and Re-Raveling Things

Whilst reading “What Technology Wants” by Kevin Kelly (Viking Adult, 2010, ISBN-13: 978-0670022151), I had the idea to pick something in my immediate surroundings and dissect its substance and impact on the world in which we live.  Try it yourself.

I chose our wooden TV stand.  It has doors with hinges, a drawer and is fastened together with nails and screws.

Going downward in the production “chain”:

This object consume trees for the lumber, ore from rocks and mining to smelt into the metals for the nails, screws and hinge parts, petroleum distillates used for the stain, pigments used for the stain, oil for combustion engines and lubrication, brushes of wood and natural fibers for applying the stain, hammers and screwdrivers, saw blades, milling machines, lathes, routers, joiners and planers.  There’s also a bit of wood glue here and there.

People and machines were used to excavate the Earth to extract various types of ore.  Lumberjacks and machines cut down trees for lumber.  Trucks and trains were used to transport the raw materials to factories and mills to be processed further.  From there they were transported to wholesale warehouses to be purchased, loaded and transported again to yet other factories and mills to be further refined.  In each step they employ yet more people and more machines, all the while consuming resources such as electricity, oil, gasoline, propane (forklifts), compressed flammable gases (welding and cutting). 

Oh yeah, the hinge components and some of the screws are Brass, which means they require two types of ore: Copper and Zinc, which are then smelted and merged to form the alloy, which is poured and cast, forged and machined.

That’s just to get everything to the point of someone being able to assemble this thing.

After each part is fabricated, it is packed, which consumes cardboard, plastic wrapping, paper and adhesive plastic tape.  Once packed, it is loaded onto a pallet, the pallets are loaded onto a truck, the truck is driven to a warehouse and unloaded.  From there it may be moved around, using forklifts, electricity and propane, and reloaded onto a truck or train and shipped to distribution centers.  From there the process repeats as the package is shipped to a retail outlet (or directly to a buyer).  Once purchased it is unpacked, assembled, and the packaging is discarded.  The discarded packaging goes into the trash, where it is picked up by city (or private) waste disposal crews, consuming yet more oil and gasoline or Diesel fuel, transported to a landfill or waste processing plant and, consuming more electricity and oil, it is placed into final disposal (land fill, at-sea dumping, incinerated, etc.).

I would say the cardboard is recycled, but I’m not that optimistic.  Some of it is, I’m sure, but most is not.

Are you still with me?  I didn’t think so. But just in case you are…

Now that you have a TV stand, you buy a TV and a DVR to put into it.  Maybe an XBox 360 or PS3 or Wii also, and the games and game cases, and the cables, and…

So, in the end, how many resources and people touched this “process”?


  • Ore miners
  • Lumberjacks
  • Oil Field Workers
  • Truck Drivers
  • Weigh Station Staff
  • Inspectors
  • Train Conductors and crew
  • Longshoremen
  • Forklift operators
  • Crane operators
  • Ship captains and crew
  • Warehouse staff
  • Security guards
  • Milling Technicians
  • Painters and Stainers
  • Packaging Staff
  • Logistics and Shipping trackers
  • Distributor buyers
  • Retail buyers
  • Retail managers
  • Retail Stocking personnel
  • The Consumer
  • The Garbage Truck driver
  • The landfill bulldozer driver or incinerator staff


  • Lumber
    • Saws
    • Cranes
    • Trucks
    • Pulleys (block and tackle)
  • Oil
    • Wells
    • Pumps
    • Pipelines
    • Ships
    • Storage Tanks
    • Refineries
  • Ore
    • Trucks, Excavators, Drills, Conveyors
    • Lighting
    • Ventilation
  • Cast Metal
    • Consumes sand/silica
    • Oil
    • Electricity
  • Forged Metal
    • Machinery to forge runs on hydraulics and electricity
  • Compressed Air cylinders (pneumatic tools)
  • Compressed flammable cylinders (welding, cutting)
    • Metal for the cylinder
    • Contents (from extraction processes: etc.)
    • Machinery to fill, seal and test
  • Hydraulic Fluid (from oil)
  • Rubber (from oil)
  • Paint (from oil)
  • Distillates and Stains (from oil)
  • Brushes (wood, plastic (oil), and natural fibers)
  • Nails (forged metal)
  • Screws (plastic and forged metal)
  • Hammers (wood, forged metal)
  • Screwdrivers (manual and automated)
  • Cardboard (again from lumber)
  • Paper (labels, guides, again from lumber)
  • Plastic Wrapping (from oil)
  • Plastic Adhesive Tape (from oil)

Have you spotted the dominant ingredient yet?  That’s right: oil.  And where does most of the oil come from to employ for these numerous processes?  That depends.  Some of these items are manufactured in the United States, many are not.  Those that are obtained and refined within the U.S. get most of their oil from the U.S.  The second largest source comes from Canada.  That’s right: Canada.

I could go on much longer, especially just within the realm of foreign produced components, and the resources, labor, transportation, taxation issues that entails.  But I’m drinking a glass of Malbec wine and it sure is damn tasty.  I gotta sign off now.  Cheers!

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