Skip to main content

Backpacks: the Concrete Cache

Oct 26 2019

Why the Content of Our Bags Creates A Cocktail of Our Identity

The things we carry, and the way we carry them, inadvertently convey a lot about who we are. Each object pulled into our own personal orbit carries within it a symbolic meaning, telling of our history, our lifestyle, our values. With or without intention, things communicate—to everyone from our Tindr dates to the authorities. Are you carrying an illicit substance? An illegal firearm? A few lipsticks and a compact? The content of a bag has the potential to incriminate or exonerate. Understanding objects in such a way, backpacks become carriers of meaning, ones that conveniently leave us free to further express ourselves—take selfies, scale fences, film unlawful arrests. Just because you're hands-free, doesn't mean you aren't carrying.

There is an old adage about wearing clean underwear in case you get hit by a bus—but even more so than your undergarments, what would the contents of your backpack, strewn about on the asphalt, say about your character? What if you could no longer speak for yourself, but were defined only by your earthly possessions? When even a piece of fruit functions as a semiotic symbol, your things are not dead matter, they are active and integral.

An object is a vessel by which subjects relate to each other. Objects are magnets, with the power to attract or repel—they are markers of taste, of class, of politics. An object can get us into one country, banned from another. Objects are in no way neutral, they are coded as commodities, ranked by their necessity, their rarity, their desirability. Everyday life involves assigning value, projecting desire, collecting attributes of the self through encoded materials. Do you think a luxury good is born a luxury good?

In times of increased surveillance, sometimes your backpack is the most secure cache there is. The physical resists the insidious interference of the digital, the backpack potentially the last refuge for any certainties in personal privacy.

The act of collecting is most crucial during pre-erotic, pre-pubescent years, objects offering an unconditional love that stands in for an amorous connection to another individual. Remember when you were a teenager, and having those sneakers or that band shirt or that record seemed like the most important thing in the world? How could you prove who you were to other people without a physical extension of your taste? The possessions we accumulate express a commitment made by externalizing what is internal.

It is Saturday night and you’re stuffing all sorts of things into your mini-backpack, preparing yourself for all of the potential possibilities. Where will the night lead you? The contents of your bag are a cocktail of the needs of your current self, and those of an aspirational future self. You assemble yourself for the life you want—not the life you have.

Strip away the magical thinking that converts tool into treasure, and you are left only with the necessities. The survival kit for the current climate has no room for heavily-branded, needlessly commodified trinkets lacking in immediate use-value. Where an excess of effects can inhibit, it is the pure essentials that will liberate.