a tale of two cities

4 May

Part of my job working for a radio station is being able to understand what makes people of all ages and different backgrounds tick… i.e. what floats their boat and if we should start talking or promoting it, will they tune in for longer… or turn that dial?

Reading between the lines I pretty much see this as a permit to be nosy.. in the ethnographic, not the ‘News of the Screws’ sort of way I’ll hastily add.

The factors that shape people’s behaviour are vast and well over my head, but I wanted to share two really fascinating books that give an insight into how the lovely city around us shapes our lives.

One is based upon a single street in London, and the other on Tokyo. Although far apart and very different, as experiments on cities go, these are two petri dishes that are as good as it gets for a social anthropologist.

‘The Comfort of Things’ by Daniel Miller is a portrayal of one street in modern London. In a city where we interact with our neighbours less, religious and social communities are looser than years gone by when you start to think about it, it can be difficult to describe what defines us and the society around us.

By interviewing thirty households on a single street, investigating what lies behind front doors and importantly the possessions within, the writer creates a great portrait of what matters to us as a modern society in London.

Rather than showing that modern life has been wholly corrupted by consumerism, these brilliantly written accounts frequently demonstrate what we possess actually express our aspirations and importantly cement our relationships with family, friends and thecity around us.

One person describes the importance of their Christmas decorations, and how the tree symbolises their chronology of Christmases. Every year the youngest child of friends and family makes a new decoration to hang on the tree. So they get to plot and remember Christmases across children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

‘Tokyo: a certain style’ is a photographic book by Kyoichi Tsuzuki along the same lines. Showing how our fellow mega city dwellers in Japan live, makes it a great comparison to Daniel Miller’s book.

As one of the most expensive places in the world to rent or own property, apartments in Tokyo are what you could describe as “cosy”.

Getting an insight into how people manage to live and function in apartments so compact that they sometimes don’t have a bathroom or toilet, yet still be able to own SO much stuff blows my mind.

Indulge your nosiness by peeking at the various spaces, this one above of a living /bed/study/dining room of a Manga artist (and no, this isn’t the bedroom of a ten year old boy)..

Originally I actually bought this book for my sister as a present (she’s an interior designer that loves clean, clutter free lines), but I had to buy myself a copy.

Mainly because I couldn’t stop leafing through it before I handed it over, so I had somewhat tarnished that “new” feel to it.. it is a few years old, but should you be able to get your hands on a copy do so.. A great gift for neat freaks, or those that complain that their flat is too small.


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