INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
Prospect FEBRUARY 8, 2010 - by Brian Eno
LOOKING SMART, BEING GOOD
I like those strangely boxy little electric cars. I like the message of their looks. They defy the traditional sleekness of car design and instead make a point of their functionalism. They say "OK - we may look a bit funny but we use a third of the energy your car is using." They advertise their owners' rethought priorities. They're nearly as cool as bikes.
On the same spectrum are two small items of recent domestic technology. The first is a little box with a screen which shows, in watts, how much electricity you're using. Switch on a light, and the figure goes up by sixty watts. Turn on the kettle and it goes up by another three thousabd. Within hours of installing this box - which takes a couple of minutes - your energy usage changes. I discovered I'd been drawing a constant one-hundred-and-forty watts for the last fifteen years - for nothing (a defunct alarm system hidden in a cupboard, a fax machine on standby for faxes that nobody sends). I now use about thirty per cent less electricity.
The second invention is an eco-kettle. It's simple - it has a water-holding chamber and a heating chamber, so you transfer from the first to the second the amount you need to heat, rather than being left with a lot of uselessly hot water. It comes with three settings: boiling, 90°C (for coffee) and 80°C (for herbal teas) - so you heat the water to the right temperature rather than boil it and then wait for it to cool. There are about three hundred million cups of hot liquid drunk per day in England, but most people heat much more water than they need. As with the watt-monitor, it's a simple way of reducing wastage - which benefits everyone.
It's also a simple way of sending out a message. Instead of saying "I'm rich" or "I'm chic," these designs say "I'm smart." And "I'm smart" translates to "I'm paying attention to the effect I have on things." Isn't it good when the display of social intelligence becomes a key design criterion?