14 June 2010

Vacuum Cleaner Culture

Vacuum Cleaner Culture

When I travel around with various lectures I tend to open with a crash course in understanding Copenhagen's bicycle culture. I explain how my friends and colleagues get a kick out of the demand for me to travel around the world talking about something as dull and everyday as 'bicycle culture'. I call it Vacuum Cleaner Culture. I have even made a logo to explain this.

We all have a vacuum cleaner, we've all learned how to use it and we all use it. But we don't go around thinking about our vaccum in the course of a day. Only when the bag is full do we roll our eyes and sigh. Kind of like when our tire is flat/chain is loose and we chuck our bike into the bike shop.

We don't have a 'stable' of vacuum cleaners. We don't buy vacuum cleaning clothes from our LVS or wave at other 'avid' vacuum cleaning 'enthusiasts' on the street. The relationship to our bicycles is the same as to our vacuum cleaners. They're both merely incredibly effective and useful tools for making our daily lives easier.
We don't have bicycle culture in #copenhagen. We have vacuum cleaner culture
In my Four Goals for Promoting Bicycle Culture lecture I compare the marketing of bicycles from the dawn of the Safety bicycle in the late 19th century - and up to the early 1950's - with the marketing of vacuum cleaners in the post war years.

It was all mainstream marketing. Aimed at selling the product to regular citizens, as opposed to sub-cultural groups who fancied the Ordinary (penny farthing) and other contraptions.

When technology made vacuum cleaners accessible and affordable, the same marketing prinicples were applied as to bicycles.

ANYWAY... one of our readers sent us a link about a vaccum cleaner fetishist. A boy who LOVES his vaccum cleaners.

I got a kick out of this. Of COURSE there are people out there who fetishize about simple, practical machines. Why not? It's just not for everyone. (I bet he rides a lazy bike - a.k.a. e-bike, but that's another story...)

For fun I thought I'd search for stats about how DANGEROUS vacuum cleaning is. I figured this writer over at Spacing Toronto could use some inspiration for articles that don't promote cycling negatively.

Imagine that. According to the Royal Society for Prevention of Accidents in the UK, there were the following statistics regarding vacuum cleaner related accidents:

Object or product involved: Vacuum Cleaner
Year Victims
2000.... 9,118
2001.... 9,104
2002.... 10,783

Where are the safety nannies on THIS issue?! Every bloody household must have a vaccum cleaner! And these stats are only for the UK. How much carnage is going unchecked around the world?


Ian Menzies said...

....but of course you fetishize bicycles ,or you wouldn't publish your 10 beautiful bikes list?~ian ,Melbourne

Eneko Astigarraga said...

Good comparison. Good point. Good job. You'd better close your blog and start cleaning or something. Nonsense to advocate more for cycling...

Neil said...

There's no doubt that moving the bike from the enthusiast crowd to the "everyday user" crowd is the challenge that we face. There's nothing wrong with there being an enthusiast crowd - and as with vacuum cleaners, cars, airplanes, computers and others an enthusiast crowd remains even after the product itself goes mainstream - the problem with bikes is that in most locales, almost all users are enthusiasts.

Your marketing comparisons do, as always, point to the way to move beyond that group.

Anonymous said...

Well, children like to ride bikes. They sometimes dream about a new bike. Are they bike nerds? Do children like to vacuum clean?

I don't think it's a water-tight comparison, though I know what you mean. Like any product, its success does depend on whether people who are not enthusiasts use it.

yewenyi said...

ah, but vaccum cleaning is done in private behind closed doors. people have a tendency to go to odd lengths about transport.

bikefriendlynorthshore said...

While both these objects are just "tools" for making life easier, working with a quality well-designed tool is always more pleasurable. They feel better in the hand, they are more efficient and when cared for they last a lifetime.

hamish said...

But nature abhors a vacuum, but I think Gaia likes bikes... so the two are not so comparable, right?

MomOnBike said...

While I understand your point about vacuum cleaners (ask me about mine. It's a dandy!), I think a better comparison would be bikes/shoes.

Both get you places, both are so common as to be a part of the background, a person can spend as much as they want to for either, and most importantly I think, both are public expressions of Who You Are. I could go on. . .

Maybe my perspective is skewed, but where I work (hospital) we have conversations about shoes. "How do you like your (brand name)? The pair I had hurt my heels."

I've had similar conversations about bikes. Never about vacuum cleaners.

Velouria said...

a funny, but completely inaccurate comparison : )
and I am sure you know that!

sexify said...

I like the vacuum analogy. I also like MomOnBike's shoe analogy.

Speaking of shoes, if pedestrians are as at risk of head injury as people on bikes, have any of you considered how dangerous walking in high heels must be??

Heels are surely safer on bikes.

Jennifer said...

I love your work but sometimes I feel you are simultaneously passionate about your subject and rather mocking of others who take it seriously.

Peter said...

there is but one device on this earth that i despise even more than cars, and that is vacuum cleaners. those things are the loudest devices known to mankind. they must be relegated to the trash heap.

spacemodular said...

You Copenhagendazers are no fun!

My son hates vacuum cleaners - they hurt his ears.

I bet you have never been on a single track ride or bmx free style or fixed gear stunt riding (that's a TARCK bike).

Bah humbug!

You and the BikeSnobNYC guy should go on a book tour together! Maybe join up with David Byrne... This bike utility thing will scare people away - it is so boring.

simplycommuting said...

This is not at all a good comparison.
Vacuum cleaners have nothing to do with bicycles.
Your so called theory is so full of contradictions that you need to have it... vacuum cleaned!