material histories

Not at all about biking, though I am on my way home soon.

But a recent piece in the New York Times caught my eye. One of the consequences of the economic slowdown has been the crippling of demand for new automobiles. As a result, thousands of cars remain parked at the docks in Long Beach. But there’s even more:

But the inventory glut in Long Beach is not limited to imported cars. There has also been a sharp drop in demand for the port’s single largest export: recycled cardboard and paper products.

This material typically goes to China, where it is used to make boxes for new electronics and other products that are sent back to the United States. But Chinese factories reacting to sharply falling demand are slowing production, so they need less cardboard. Tons of paper are piling up recycling businesses around the port, the detritus of economies on hold.

There are some striking photographs in the article, and it’s just so suggestive to think about material histories, material facts. We can plan and forecast all we want, but the Port of Los Angeles might be a reminder that, in the end, our lives are always about things, for better and for worse.

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