I used a leaf blower once. Not really to blow leaves, but to get dust and dirt out of a pavement in a day’s work as a hygeine operative for a temp agency in St Albans. It was the more fun bit of the day (earlier on I had been using a long pokey stick with a pointy hoe on the end to scrape moss from in between paving bricks), not least because I kept zoning out and blasting clouds of dust at passers by, exploiting that weird invisibility you get if you’re wearing hi-vis and holding a machine.
It’s an impressive sight though, huge clouds of dirt cascading around you, billowing and raging and breathing and drifting. As soon as its out of your range it goes from bluster to float, these immense swells of dirt, become slow moving universes, until the next turn blasts them back outwards.
And the whole process was utterly pointless. Not cleaning up anything, just moving chunks of dust around. In theory I was aiming them into the road and gutter, so that the cleaning van could come clean up properly. In fact, I was just watching the clouds.
Anyway. Dom Quinto, in the late 1950s, though there’s no proof of that. He did have a fairly cool name though. This guy doesn’t like him much.
He’s got a point. Leaf blowers are highly symbolic of one of the main problems of technological society. Technology often develops not to remove problems, or solve problems, but to move them. The leaves aren’t used (which if raked and mulched and composted, they can be), they are just pushed away, into the next garden, or out into the street. You dramatically blast at the problem, pushing it away with fierce bluster and noise.
But you just make a mess somewhere else.
Brooms and rakes may be hardwork, but they are devices built to give you control. Simply made and used, they use your own energy to deal with a problem and keep you in control.
A leaf blower smashes a problem fiercely. It turns it into a cloud and blows it away. It raises the problem into the air and pushes it out of your territory.
It’s a noisy, messy and unfriendly solution to a simple and small scale problem. It saves time, but it does so at the expense of people other than you. It doesn’t really save the time, it just takes it from someone else.
Yes. This is representative of things that are wrong with out society. We’d rather blast a problem away than look at it and deal with it simply. We’d rather do things quickly and noisily than have to be considerate.
We don’t give a shit about the damage we do as long as it doesn’t impact us.
We don’t have to use technology like this. We don’t have to build our world around this type of efficiency.
We need to work out what kind of machine we’re cogs in.
Illustration by Henry