Anyone who has spent any significant amount of time around me is familiar with The Bag. As a woman in Western civilization, one of the requirements of membership is the acquisition and maintenance of a bag in which to carry your stuff. It’s an odd cultural thing, this idea of the Bag. On the surface, it’s such a small thing—what bag are you going to carry? But underneath, it has this amazing cultural and psychological meaning.
You see, your bag is like a tiny, portable extension of your home that you carry with you pretty much wherever you go. It is that place where, no matter the circumstances you encounter, you can be pretty sure to find a solution. And since practicality insists you can’t take the entirety of your belongings with you every time you go out to the corner grocery, the act of carrying a handbag requires some soul searching.
What do you need to carry with you that could, at any moment, be called upon to aid, assist, entertain, enlighten, or rescue you out in the vast wilds? What you put in that bag reflects the kind of emergencies you think you will have, the kind of solutions you think you will need, and the things that will make you feel an overall sense of safety and preparedness.
You can truly tell a lot about a person by the kind of bag they carry. If you want to get to know about someone in a quick, fairly superficial but oddly accurate way, check out their purse.
Do you carry money or credit cards? Do you carry makeup and hair styling tools? Do you carry a phone or notebook computer? Is your bag stylish, utilitarian, funky, designer, or expensive? Is it well-organized or cluttered with old receipts, grocery lists, and (in my case) last year’s Christmas wish list for your significant other?
If the person carrying the handbag is male (knapsacks and the like do count), this is especially impressive. Men, for some reason I cannot begin to fathom, have been excluded from the bag requirement by Western society. Maybe it’s because for so long the job of maintaining home and hearth has fallen to the woman. Maybe it’s because, aside from carrying a wallet and a condom, many men have been exempted from taking responsibility for the day-to-day running of the culture. So to the enlightened, murse-carrying New Man, I say kudos. Welcome to the world of grownups. Welcome to the world of personal responsibility. Do you have a pen I could borrow—mine just ran out of ink?
The Evolution of The Bag
My personal bag history is long and convoluted. I’ve never been one about designers, nor do I particularly care about the look of the bag. My values are strictly utilitarian – what do I need to have in any situation to keep my world running smoothly? Obviously, the wallet is there. My keys and medicines are there, as well as my badge for work. I think I have a Chapstick in there, and for a while, I even had a Tide stick for eating mishaps. (No, I never mistook the two—chaos!)
But aside from these very normal things, my definition of a good bag has always come down to this question—can I carry a book in it? During school, it was paperbacks. Since I didn’t drive until about three weeks before my twentieth birthday, I spent a lot of time waiting for rides. Books were survival, my shield against the cultural stigma of being a teenager who didn’t drive. When you’re sitting for forty-five minutes alone outside of an empty band room or school building, it starts to look odd. Having a book in hand not only staved off unwanted intrusions by “friendly” strangers offering lifts, but also kind of lifted my outward appearance from carless loser to oddball intellectual. Of course, it had the added benefit of keeping away boredom and loneliness.
I still carry books (yes, you read the plural correctly) with me. My perfect bag is actually a big black knapsack—yeah, one of those school bags from grade school with the different pockets and a clip for your keys. Fashionable. But it works. I have at my fingertips whatever book I may be reading at the time (could be pop psychology, could be history, could be a Star Trek novel I found at the Book Nook at work), a couple of ink pins, a notebook for scribbling down ideas, and my MP3 player in case I need to tune out the world. Because, apparently, to me there is no emergency situation that can’t at least be made more bearable by a good book and some tunes.
Your Portable Values System
I come to this reflection on the cultural value of the handbag after a long, lazy morning of listening to MP3s on my cute little red MP3 player that isn’t really an MP3 player. (It’s more a flash drive that can play music. No bells, no whistles, just a place to carry muh tunes.)
An MP3 player is kind of like the new, technologically-advanced generation of purse. You can fit so much onto it—what do you choose? What mood, what desire will you need to fill? The first things I put on my MP3 player were music, of course. Indie songs I would never hear on the radio, oldies, classical music and folk songs that would be similarly rare and exotic in this day and age of cookie-cutter commercial playlists—the basic building blocks of a comfortable life, no matter my location.
After a while, though, I began to realize that my MP3 had the potential for quite a bit more. Thanks to the miracle of the Interwebs, I could download books, lectures, TED Talks, meditation tapes—pretty much anything that could be converted into a sound file and saved digitally. A logical connection surfaced between the books I was reading and the MP3s I was downloading.
The book I’m currently reading is The Mozart Effect by Don Campbell. Of course, that led to lots of Mozart downloads including his Violin Concerto No. 5 in A Major. The book also discussed the pioneering research of Alfred A. Tomatis in the effects of music on patients with neurological disorders.
One of the procedures Tomatis developed early in his career was often referred to as a sonic rebirth—therapy where womb sounds were combined with the voice of the patient’s parents to produce well-being and improved psychological development. Of course, I had to look into this phenomena and maybe try it out for myself. My YouTube search led me to this video and many others. I listened to them and the effect was about the same on my body as the first time I took Prozac—a feeling of balance and calm that has eluded me for much of my adult life.
After listening to this comforting music, I was inspired to use more of my Saturday morning to listen to a bunch of TED Talks I’d downloaded.
The Bag as a Metaphor
I won’t go into whole list of links on the TED Talks I listened to until the very end. But I will tell you something I learned. Like a handbag, a life is pretty much what you want it to be. You put into it the things you value, the things you think will help you in times of trouble, the things you think will make your time on this planet not only bearable, but meaningful. Technology has placed us in a unique position in history—for the first time the human race is exposed in a profound and relatively inexpensive way to the ideas of thousands if not millions of other individuals. For the first time in our racial history, we can come together to act globally as a community.
The way we use this technology, like the way we use our handbags, will ultimately reflect our values as individuals and as a society. We have an unprecedented opportunity to change the fabric of the way humans do culture. We also have the potential to do major serious damage.
The bottom line is of course, personal choice and responsibility. If we are making the world up as we go, what kind of world do we want to create?
Jill Bolte Taylor – How it feels to have a stroke
Neuroanatomist Jill Bolte Taylor had an opportunity few brain scientists would wish for: One morning, she realized she was having a massive stroke. As it happened — as she felt her brain functions slip away one by one, speech, movement, understanding
Jennifer Pahlka- Coding a better government
Can government be run like the Internet, permissionless and open? Coder and activist Jennifer Pahlka believes it can — and that apps, built quickly and cheaply, are a powerful new way to connect citizens to their governments — and their neighbors.
Julian Baggini – Is There A Real You?
One of the best known philosophers in the UK, Julian will ask the question ‘Is There A Real You? He will draw on the research supporting his latest book ‘The Ego Trick’ and challenge our audience to reflect on their understanding of the ‘Self’.
Susan Cain- The power of introverts
In a culture where being social and outgoing are prized above all else, it can be difficult, even shameful, to be an introvert. But, as Susan Cain argues in this passionate talk, introverts bring extraordinary talents and abilities to the world, and should be encouraged and celebrated.
Clifford Stoll- 18 minutes with an agile mind
Clifford Stoll could talk about the atmosphere of Jupiter. Or hunting KGB hackers. Or Klein bottles, computers in classrooms, the future. But he’s not going to. Which is fine, because it would be criminal to confine a man with interests as multifarious as Stoll’s to give a talk on any one topic. Instead, he simply captivates his audience with a wildly energetic sprinkling of anecdotes, observations, asides — and even a science experiment. After all, by his own definition, he’s a scientist: “Once I do something, I want to do something else.”