My document-shredder conked out the other day so I had to get a new one. Did I say “had to”? Since when did shredders become indispensable items of household equipment? It seems they have insinuated themselves into our homes and – like washing machines – become indispensable household tools. I suppose I could live without one, but the constant threat of identity theft is a powerful incentive not to: and who has the patience to tear documents into illegible fragments by hand?
Some people go to great lengths to avoid accumulating the things that define their lives so narrowly. For example, there’s the couple I saw on a TV show who emigrated from Britain to a remote Indonesian island where they bought a piece of pristine seashore and built themselves a home. They had the gumption to tailor their lifestyle from scratch – a life without document-shredders. But while they were explaining this to camera I caught a glimpse of an HP Sauce bottle glinting incongruously in the sunlight filtering through the palm trees onto their al-fresco dining table. It caused me to speculate whether they had brought it with them or bartered it at a Spar shop on a neighbouring island. Either way, it sowed a seed of doubt in my mind concerning the extent of their commitment to a radical new lifestyle.
One of my PCs had also been playing up so I took it to the shop when I went to get my new shredder. The man (never a woman, I notice) asked me to leave it with him for a while – as I had anticipated – so I took myself off for a walk. I had been watching a TED talk about walkable cities and wanted to test some of the ideas on the ground. (The main proposition is that we reclaim our streets from the tyranny of motor vehicles and tailor them instead to the requirements of pedestrians and cyclists. The benefits are undeniable: they include the encouragement of physical exercise in air which is less-polluted as a result of a reduction in the number of car journeys; a rejuvenation of street-life and consequent raised levels of sociability; a reduction of traffic-related stress and the reduction of traffic accidents. Thus, with small but significant changes to street-management systems, we improve the well-being of citizens and curb the future cost of physical and mental healthcare. It’s not as radical as moving to a tropical island but it is a step in the right direction.)
I wandered around a nearby inner-city brownfield site that is currently being developed. Some of the industrial mills have been re-purposed, providing dwellings, small-scale offices and ground-floor shops and cafes. Elsewhere new flats, houses and a school are in construction around a series of formerly industrial canal basins and a park that has been made on reclaimed wasteland. Nearby is a Metro station and several bus routes: it seemed to me to be a perfect example of the walkable theory put into practice. Just then my reverie was interrupted by the computer repairman calling to ask for my password. I hesitated: I didn’t want to offend him by refusing and I did want the PC fixed – but the state of being temporarily shredderless combined with the possibility of having my (quite weak) password compromised induced a moment of anxiety. I gave the password reluctantly and determined to change it as soon as I could.
Later, at home, with my newly passworded PC and my new shredder I felt more comfortable. But, as I reached for the small stack of discarded envelopes that had contained my birthday cards (any document with your name and address written on it should, strictly speaking, be shredded) I did feel a little wave of paranoia lapping at the shore of my logical consciousness.