Packaging vs Contents: Big Boxes of Air

As I wrote recently, our technology, rather than coming in one big box, now comes in two smaller ones. Except they’re not actually smaller. They’re bigger.

Because our technology is small and probably fragile to some extent, and because we generally buy it online, we actually get delivered to us One Big Box. Although there is an initial twinge of deja-vu and nostalgia for the old days, this goes when you open the box.

You are confronted with the modern two-smaller-boxes, which you can’t get at. This is because they are surrounded by big bags of air which take up the airspace in the external box not used by the two-smaller-boxes, thereby stopping two-smaller-boxes from being able to chat while in transit, much less breathe. These bags of air are basically bubblewrap writ large, but are confusingly less fun to pop; no breakfast cereal “snap” here, just a lazy sigh, as from a recumbent canine. If terrorists wanted to kill people, they could just sneak into the Big-bags-of-air plant, fill them all with something nasty and Western society would vanish within a couple of months.

So you remove big-bags-of-air and can finally reach two-smaller-boxes, which you then open, requiring, of course, all sorts of knives, pliers and degrees from red brick universities to do so. Inside these boxes are the Nineties equivalents of big-bags-of-air; cardboard spacers and hard plastic bracing. It looks like the inside of a garden-shed nuclear device, with your gadget nestling in the centre, pretending to be a plutonium core.

The cardboard-spacers are basically they way they get rid of the spare cardboard at the packaging plant. They cut and fold it into interesting shapes and jam it into the two-smaller-boxes. The up side is that it gives the kids and the dog something to destroy while you’re unpacking your toys. It’s not like the have the qualifications to open Noughties packaging anyway.

The hard-plastic-bracing stuff is an utter bastard. It’s the stuff they put tools in at DIY stores, the kind you need the tool itself to open. You spend hours hacking at it with a kitchen knife and are left with a mass of lethal shards on the carpet, most of which end up in the feet of you, your family and your pets and most likely a piece of overpriced tech which looks like the residents of the local pound have been chewing on it for a week or two.

So, basically, what you bought constitutes anywhere from 50% to 1% of the volume of the external packing, depending on the size of the gadget. The smaller the gadget, the more airspace is included Free! with the packaging. It would be OK if it was positioned in the centre of the box, but no. You pick the box up in the middle, only to discover that the contents are actually a twenty kilo point mass located in the far bottom corner, which means the box throws itself on the ground, right on the corner where the gadget is cowering, thereby rendering the big-bags-of-air, two-boxes, hard-plastic-bracing and cardboard-spacers thoroughly redundant.

You would have thought that these days, the amount of packaging would be reduced, for all sorts of environmental reasons. Yow would need to waste less oil on plastic, waste less trees on cardboard and expend less jet fuel on flying boxes of air around the globe. Teeny bits of tech should be (and probably are) designed to take some bumps in their life, especially if they are portable, as teeny tech tends to be.

Yet it appears that if we’re spending £200 pounds on something, we want some decent packaging and we want it to be shipped in containers that would withstand a gigatonne nuclear blast at point blank range. In a few years, the traditional opening of Christmas presents will be conducted in the garden, packaging will be nuclear-bunker-analogs and come with integrated transit tubes, allowing people to crawl between presents without having to brave the elements. Present opening will take on the adventure status of potholing, as you will need some sort of axe, harness, and helmet-with-a-torch to make it out before New Year arrives or the turkey becomes infested with Salmonella.

While that sounds like fun, not everyone has a garden capable of housing even a single nuclear bunker. So, packaging types, think of the planet and people with small cars and gardens and give us some decent packaging commensurate with the size of the contents. Otherwise Boxing Day will have to be replaced by Boxing Week.

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