Fragile Frugality: Anecdotes as antidotes in “globe 2.0”

Alok Nandi

Alok b. Nandi was born in Congo, raised in Zaïre and is currently based in Brussels. As designer/media artist/writer-director/strategic design consultant, Alok explores and investigates conflicting constraints in evolving and hybrid contexts. Storytelling is his guiding light as he researches navigation, interaction, visualization, patterns, imageability, ambulation, way-finding, saturation, frugality, zero and food. He translates these abstract concepts into concrete works within information design, media technologies, exhibition mise-en-scène, public speaking, and media art.


Once upon a time… No. No historical tale. It is an anecdote. Stop.

Anecdotes are short tales, evoking incidents and involving actual persons. Each of us, you, me, we all have anecdotes to share, incidents to talk about, accidents to complain of, minor or major. Your major events are minor to others, and maybe vice-versa. Do anecdotes allow us to build empathy? The word anecdote (“unpublished,” literally “not given out”) is related to a work entitled Ανεκδοτα (Anekdota, variously translated as Unpublished Memoirs or Secret History) by Procopius of Caesera, a collection of short incidents from the private life of the Byzantine court. Anecdotes are ephemeral, trivial, not important.

An antidote or a counterdose is a substance which can counteract a form of poisoning. The term derives from the Greek αντιδιδοναι antididonai, “given against.”

So, what was not given out is now given against? Anecdote as antidote ? And how and why does it relate to frugality?

Let’s go to the actual anecdote.

Singapore. Summer 2008. ISEA conference: Luminous Green workshop, organised by FoAM.

Open innovation and bottom-up! Let’s voice ideas and themes to talk about, to think about. I proposed the word “frugality” for discussion. What does this term trigger? Conversations, questions, dialogues, debates.… A good crowd gathered. And many people from the so-called Eastern world (remember, we are in Singapore) as well as many from the Western world (the artists and activists lucky enough to be there – we won’t open Pandora’s box of what luck means here…). Two European participants ask “what is frugality?” They don’t know the word. Never heard of it. Some Asians began to explain the concept: in a nutshell, one could say “consume in a restrained way and resourcefully to protect your future.”

During the session these associations popped up: frugal life, mother, simple life, conservation, recycling, raw materials, essence, substance, fulfilling, elegance, mindset change, highest output and lowest input, fragility, using less, participation framework, 21st century cradle-to-cradle, impermanence, autonomy, scale, two levels as personal and collective/environment.…

Many anecdotes to reveal the unsaid, to express the need for antidotes.

But, the anecdotes were the antidotes! From an anecdote – the ignorance of the word “frugality” – we ended up with an antidote, a kind of dynamic, informal framework to react against the poisoning(s) of the 21st century. Poisoning? It is up to us to express these and act.

To articulate an architecture (activity for designing any system) which is frugal, hence fragile, but also agile, utile but also futile, depending on who and where the involved stakeholders are.