Everyday Totemism

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Everyday-carry.com is a pictorial blog that calls for readers to submit photos of their

small items or gadgets worn, carried, or made available in pockets, holsters, or bags on a daily basis to manage common tasks or for use in unexpected situations or emergencies.

The blog description concludes by saying,

In a broader sense, it is a lifestyle, discipline, or philosophy of preparedness.

The result is a gallery of pocketknives, aviator sunglasses, pistols, expensive watches and pens. And the occasional Chapstick.

What are these men preparing for? What kind of emergencies are they expecting?

For contrast, here are some of the items the Red Cross advises for contents of an emergency kit:

  • Water—one gallon per person, per day (3­day supply for evacuation, 2­week supply for home)
  • Food—non­perishable, easy­to­prepare items (3­day supply for evacuation, 2­week supply for home)
  • Flashlight
  • Battery­powered or hand­crank radio (NOAA Weather Radio, if possible)
  • First aid kit
  • Medications (7­day supply) and medical items
  • Multi­purpose tool
  • Sanitation and personal hygiene items
  • Copies of personal documents (medication list and pertinent medical information, proof of address, deed/lease to home, passports, birth certificates, insurance policies)
  • Cell phone with chargers
  • Family and emergency contact information
  • Extra cash
  • Emergency blanket
  • Map(s) of the area
  • Baby supplies (bottles, formula, baby food, diapers)
  • Games and activities for children
  • Pet supplies (collar, leash, ID, food, carrier, bowl)
  • Two­way radios

Obviously these are not “everyday,” and they probably wouldn’t be carried on one’s person. But the content is still telling.

Real emergencies and real disasters are social problems: they threaten social entities like family, community and government. Emergencies cause communications to be interrupted; parents to be separated from children; the young or frail to be without supervision or care. Emergencies put heavy pressure on social institutions like charities and governments, and require more from people to help one another. Things like radios and walkie-talkies, baby food, first-aid kits, and personal documents are all tools for restoring the links to society which become broken during emergencies. At root, they are about helping others.

When your house is on fire, your first thought is, “Get the kids out first!” Not, “I am going to look SO COOL walking away from that firey explosion in slow-motion.”

At least, that’s what your first thought ought to be. 

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21 Responses to Everyday Totemism

  1. Jackie says:

    That site had a weirdly fascinating kind of “If you show me yours, I’ll show you mine,” aspect to it.

    And what to make of the guys who told you the brands of everything?

  2. tanmat35 says:

    What kind of emergencies are they expecting?

    A branding emergency. Gen Xrs and Ys will go down for being remembered for being cool, beyond that, not much.

  3. Dan Dravot says:

    It seems a bit of a stretch to say that emergency blankets, Leatherman tools, and baby food are really about restoring links to society. I think it would be at least as fair to say that most of what’s on that Red Cross list is stuff you need to keep yourself and others safe and healthy in the short term when those links are broken.

    I’m surprised you didn’t notice the compact flashlights in almost every picture. I didn’t notice any “aviator sunglasses”, even though I looked a second time to make sure. Not much of any kind of sunglasses. True about the wristwatches, but some people wear watches in our culture, and watches are always a form of jewelry. If the cell towers go, they’ll know what time it is and I’ll be squinting at shadows and guessing.

    So, looking at the Red Cross list, I’m not sure what’s so terrible here: Most of them have flashlights, a knife/Swiss Army knife/multitool, and a cell phone. They’re talking about what they actually carry in their pockets at the office every day, to cope with what they may actually have to contend with. Three day’s water for the whole family isn’t a critical need on my daily commute, or at my desk. Yours, I don’t know.

    Moving along, I’m not sure how you managed to read “unexpected situations or emergencies” as an exact synonym for “large-scale natural disasters, or house fires, but definitely nothing else”.

    On the whole, it may be true that anybody who posts a picture of his flashlight and pocketknife on the web would be likely to ignore his children when his house catches fire, and probably doesn’t own a first-aid kit. But you haven’t said much to justify that belief, aside from the aviator glasses. But there weren’t any. So… You’re assembling a psychological profile of these people based not on what they carry in their pockets, but what they would carry in their pockets if they were the kind of people you assume they are… Huh?!

    Jeez, I dunno. I carry a pocket Leatherman and a button-cell flashlight, and one or the other of the two comes in handy a couple times a week. Does that mean I fantasize about being Denzel Washington? That I’d let my kids burn? That if I’m prepared to open boxes and look behind bookcases, I have no links to society? No, it means I’m a nerd. If I posted photos of that stuff on the web I’d be a truly colossal nerd, but you don’t seem focused on the nerd aspect of it, which is strange, because that’s the one thing they’re inarguably guilty of.

    Have you considered the possibility that pocketknives, tools, and flashlights might be handy things to have around? Are you quite certain you’re a much greater expert on the utility of these items than the people who carry them?

    I guess the piece would be stronger if you were more explicit about who you’re angry at, and why. No, wait, that’s not what I meant. It would just be shorter.

    • nohope says:

      These look like aviators, some more aviators, Ray Bans, More Ray Bans, Oakleys
      More sunglasses.

      There’s nothing wrong with showing people what you like to keep in your pockets. But a “lifestyle, discipline, or philosophy of preparedness”? One post shows the guy is carrying around his Kindle.

      • CarbonCopy says:

        You still sound angry. What would you rather see?

      • Dan Dravot says:

        I wrote,

        I didn’t notice any “aviator sunglasses”, even though I looked a second time to make sure. Not much of any kind of sunglasses.

        “Not much of” is not “zero”. OK, but you did find one pair of aviator glasses. I didn’t search back far enough in the archive. My bad.

        In your view, does that one pair justify characterizing the whole site as a gallery of aviator glasses? Do aviator glasses more accurately characterize the site than the one or more flashlights seen in virtually every single picture? Flashlights are in almost all of the pictures. Sunglasses of any description are in less than a third of them. Aviator glasses are in, what, one? Maybe a few more if you keep looking and looking?

        It’s like finding Tiger Woods and characterizing golfers as black. “Hey, the president plays golf too! See, they ARE black!” Well, some are. But if I were to critique golf on the basis of it being primarily an African-American sport, I would be making very little sense.

        I think the author of the post looked at that site, jumped to conclusions about what kind of people they are, and started filling in details from his own internal image of “people like that”. His post is better TLP fodder than the site he’s critiquing.

        • nohope says:

          Guns appear in a rather large number of the images. Does that make the blog “about” guns? I mentioned aviator sunglasses because they were in some of the first images I looked at on the site and I thought they were striking. It was never my intention to fixate on them, and I only mentioned them in passing in the first place.

          There’s nothing wrong with liking gadgets, or even with showing them off or blogging about them. But the grouping of these objects in their tableaus, and the rugged/tactical theme of the site seems disconnected from the things that really matter in emergencies or other dangerous situations. It’s a practically-minded pretense for showing off consumer goods.

      • Dan Dravot says:

        P.S. Your second pair of aviator glasses aren’t classic aviator glasses. More like Porsche glasses, which I have to admit are infinitely more lame. Not too unlike, though, so whatever. And the first pair are aviator-shaped, but in that weird ghastly yellow shade, they’re probably shooting glasses.

        Actually come to think of it, I like aviator glasses. It’s a classic look. They sure beat Oakleys or Ray-Bans (which, now that you object to them instead, maybe you should fix the post). Ray-Bans are great if you’re John Belushi, but nobody is any more.

        And yeah, “lifestyle” may be a bit of a stretch, but less of a stretch than 90% of what’s in the post. If you’d gone only as far as the facts justified in making fun of them (what’s wrong with posting flashlight photos online is that it is reeeally, reeeally lame), I think that would’ve been enough.

        • CarbonCopy says:

          Dan, I think your initial comment nailed it. After looking at that site, I don’t see a connection between a bunch of people posting pictures of mostly useful stuff they carry in their pockets with being ready for large scale natural disasters.

          Also, I don’t see anything wrong with the site’s description of itself. An ‘emergency’ can be as simple as having the lights on your car stop working at night. Flashlight? You could consider it a ‘lifestyle’ too, albeit a very lame one.

          Is a lot of the stuff on there ‘brand name’ and overpriced? Sure. I don’t think I could bring myself to buy a $50 pen.

          I am still wondering what got nohope so bent out of shape when he visited the site. If the site was used as an example of people defining themselves solely based on things they buy I would agree.

  4. rDigital says:

    I don’t agree with the totem “symbology” that’s implied. Totems are usual a useless item with a special meaning to the bearer. Most of the items listed on that blog are VERY useful in everyday life. I also carry a pocket knife, multi-tool, gun, flashlight and some 550 cord almost everyday.

    The above poster is correct, It’s just another nerd site. There are video game, computer, gun and even camera nerds too. Camera nerds are the absolute worst.

  5. Dave Pinsen says:

    Found out about EDC yesterday, via Twitter. This contrarian post on the blog, and the accompanying editor’s response, probably sums up the discussion about the merits of the site.

  6. Balsamred says:

    This site makes me think of Dwight from The Office. It’s funny to see people geeking out over pens and knives and flashlights like overgrown 10 year olds. I agree that it’s a different type of preparedness than the Red Cross advises, since the latter is focused on survival, while the former seems to be a mix of Boy Scout training and young boys’ fantasies about being able to fight off the bad guys. Which is fine, really; everyone needs a hobby. I’ve just never heard of any cases where an untrained person with a bunch of weapons in his pockets was able to stop any sort of killing spree or whatever. If anyone else has, please feel free to enlighten me. I’ve heard of plenty of people wrestling criminals to the ground and disarming them, etc., but I’ve never heard of any incident where somebody opened up his man purse “Urban Wallet,” took out his selection of fancy knives, and used them to take out an attacker.

  7. eqv says:

    As a non-American, it’s very strange to look through that site and see so many guns (and knives). One guy says he usually doesn’t carry his .45; that it’s just for when he goes on weekends in the wilderness and for ‘adventurous evenings’ and the like. I’m not trying to start a flamewar about US gun laws– far from it. The idea of private citizens carrying guns is just totally alien to me I guess. I’m intrigued by the large numbers of Moleskines, also. These seem to be the kind of people who think it makes a difference to the words you write if you write them in a $15 notebook when the same thing could be accomplished in a 90c notebook or on a cellphone.
    Quoting Dan’s post further up:
    Most of them have flashlights, a knife/Swiss Army knife/multitool, and a cell phone. They’re talking about what they actually carry in their pockets at the office every day, to cope with what they may actually have to contend with. Three day’s water for the whole family isn’t a critical need on my daily commute, or at my desk. Yours, I don’t know.”

    Well, but that works two ways. Why do you need a gun and a knife if you’re just going to the office?

    • Jerboa says:

      It’s hard to explain as an American, but even though I’m rendered helpless by laughter at the thought of a non-specialist carrying a weapon in the twenty-first century, I have a brief moment of admiration for it. I love the complete disdain for authority it implies. It says, “this other guy trained his ass off for years to protect me, but I’m going to go ahead and believe that this tactical knife makes me John McClane.”

      Of course it’s silly, but it’s also deeply embedded in our culture. As David Brin has pointed out, we hate any authority, and we don’t trust it. My country was more or less founded on that belief, and one day my country will end because of it. That’s okay, it’s a pretty solid enlightenment-era principle, and I’m not afraid to help run it into the ground.

      If everything goes well, the thing that comes afterward will be even better. That’s my hope at least, as someone who’s just helplessly caught in the tide.

      • eqv says:

        I don’t know if these guys hate authority. They’d like to think they do, but they don’t.

        EDC seems like the sort of thing that would drive Tyler Durden into fits of rage.

        • eqv says:

          Haha: http://everyday-carry.com/post/2731084242/updated-edc-submitted-by-beersthatway-editors

          Editor’s Note: I’m liking the doubling up of knives and flashlights in different styling and sizes… Your gear is colorful and non-threatening, but still highly functional, allowing you to do whatever you need to do without scaring off the sheeple too badly… And even then, you have a small, classically styled slipjoint if you need to cut in public. On top of that, you have backups with you also, covering more bases. Nice choices and well-thought out update. Thanks for sharing!

        • Jerboa says:

          No, we all hate authority, we just define it differently. I’ll attempt to memory quote an excerpt from one of Brin’s talks here, “The average republican is suspicious of snooty academics and faceless government bureaucrats. The average democrat is afraid of corporations, aristocrats, and religious fanatics. The average libertarian picks one from column A and one from column B. Are any of them wrong?”

          Tyler Durden was just another authority figure by the end, that’s why he had to go, and why we all cheered when it happened.

      • rDigital says:

        You can “rendered helpless by laughter” all you want, but the average person who carries a firearm and has a license to do so trains more than a LEO.

        An armed man is a citizen. An unarmed man is a subject.

        • Jerboa says:

          I wasn’t aware of that, but It still seems silly to me. How often do you require the use of that small arsenal you described in your previous post? The pocket knife and the multi-tool are reasonable, but the rope is a little creepy, and the gun just seems unnecessary. Violence is pretty easy to avoid in the US, and the number of violent situations that you can legally solve with lethal force is ridiculously small. At the point where someone is carrying around a tool to solve a problem they will almost never encounter, I begin to suspect that it serves a different purpose, which is that the gun makes them badass by proxy.

          Anyway, it’s cool with me if you want to run around with a bunch of weapons. Politically, we’re probably more or less in alignment on that issue. As Balsamred said, everyone needs a hobby. One of mine is martial arts, which is almost as retarded as your gun. I have my fair share of adolescent warrior fantasies too, but that just means we both deserve to be laughed at.

  8. vprime says:

    This is fetishism. Not the kinky boots kind, the religious kind: the belief that the magical power of these items can be transferred to the user/wearer. That’s why the brands are so prominent. Brands are our animating spirits. The even use the word “totem.” It’s the image of the commando badass conjured by the items that the wearers are venerating by carrying these objects.
    More on the religious definition of fetishism: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/06052b.htm

  9. LJ_Gibbs says:

    A lot of the comments here seem to be missing the mark about edc. EDC was not just about what you carried but why. The whole concept was preparedness for what you might face on a daily basis- particularly if you lead an active life doing a lot of different things.
    Knives and multitools are important to handle those frequent tasks of cutting or repairing or modifyying something wherever you are. A flashlight is important to make sure you can see what you need to see. Last week I few into Memphis and the jet bridge had no power. We were walking up a pitch-black tunnel- which I thought was unbelievably stupid given the risk to passengers. The elderly lady ahead of me was somewhat unsteady and walked slowly with a cane. TSA didn’t allow me a multitool to fix the power (lol), but I did have a small flashlight so at least she could see where the seems were in the jet bridge to avoid tripping. If that flashlight’s use that one time helped her avoid a broken hip it was worth the weeks I carried it and didn’t need it.
    These are the types of situations edc was meant for- not the end of the world where it hits the fan- what you can expect to encounter in an everyday situation. If your everyday situation means you travel daily in the inner city, then a small pistol may not be a bad idea.
    As far as the brands- yeah some of it was out there. Rolexes, Sebenza knives, Ray-Ban, etc. were out there from the standpoint of practicality- more brand image than quality needed for the task. However, I enjoyed seeing brands listed so I knew what was quality and what people took pride in. No one takes pictures of the 99 cent checkout counter pocketknife or 19.95 Timex- we all have been suckered into them, bought them, and found them useless.
    However, the relatively inexpensive Spyderco knives, Seiko watches, Leatherman multitools, 4Sevens flashlights, etc. showed you what was possible to buy on a budget, ensure it was lightweight and easy to carry, and would do the job when you needed it. It also gave ideas on how to carry it- bag or pocket- loose or on a fob or lanyard.
    I learned from it because I had an open mind, understood that life throws many different situations at you, and truly believe a person should be as self-reliant as possible.