A bag is a form of technology that helps us move our things from place to place so that we can get our daily work done. Every bag has affordances and constraints. Unfortunately, I find myself running up against what I see as unbalanced trade-offs in these affordances and constraints for my particular circumstances.
I don’t begrudge a tool’s constraints. In fact, these constraints can be quite liberating. For example, Thomas Lux, my former poetry professor at Georgia Tech, would purposefully give his students specific constraints for a week’s assignment: there can be only so many words, there can be only so many lines, there must be the color green, etc. He explained that these constraints open up possibilities that would not have existed had he not instructed us to create a new work of poetry based around these constraints. Put another way, while affordances are the explicitly designed ways and interfaces for using a technology, constraints can open up new, unforseen possibilities along the lines of William Gibson’s important observation: “the street finds its own use for things.”
Of the bags that I do own, I’ve unstitched a lot of the fluff on my small Timbuk2 messenger, and I’ve unriveted and cut the unnecessary branding and features of my STM Aero 13 backpack. I’ve made them more usable for me, but I come to realize that I didn’t like how large they are for everyday use. Certainly, if I’m going to the store for groceries, a larger bag is better (my stock Jansport Super Break II is usually deployed for these missions), but I’m thinking about the gear that I carry everyday.
So, my bag problem came to be one about just the needed size for the things that I carry everyday. I should explain that these are the things that I carry to and from work. This is about a 2 mile round trip walk. This makes weight and comfort a prime consideration. Also, as I think is true for many instructors, if a large enough bag is available, I tended to bring a lot of work home with me in the form of books and stacks of papers. However, my interaction with this material often was simply via osmosis instead of material-in-hand engagement. I would carry things home with an intention of using the materials and then returning them to campus later, but this often didn’t happen. Life gets in the way (or simply exhaustion–probably from lugging 10 pounds of student work a mile down Court Street), and the books and papers would be returned via a return trip to be used ultimately on campus. Thus, I wanted an EDC bag that would obviate the possiblity of using it for carrying these kinds of materials. Also, I thought that this change might turn me to using my tech gear in a new way–digitizing and scanning only the most important and pressing work to carry home on a device or upload to the cloud.
As you’re probably familiar with, the character Indiana Jones made famous the anachronistic British Mk VII gas mask bag (the bag did not yet exist during the period of the first three Indy films). When I was a kid, my cousin Amie and her folks gave me one of my most precious gifts–a Dukes of Hazard shoulder bag. I wore it everywhere and it always contained my most essential kit–toys, candy, and a leather whip. Yes, I fancied this bag as my Indy bag. When its strap broke, I tied my best knot to keep on adventuring with it. Looking through old photos like the one above when I received it, I was reminded about how much I liked its size and simplicity.
In my searches, a name kept popping up: Magnoli Clothiers. It is an outfit based in New Zealand that specializes in making clothing and prop reproductions from film and television (and other bespoke tailoring services, too). Many folks online–especially in forums discussing Indiana Jones–recommended their reproduction of Indy’s bag called the British Mk VII Satchel. I figured that its low cost justified trying it out. Also, I liked that it didn’t include a shoulder strap. Magnoli Clothiers offers an add-on leather strap, which would make the Mk VII satchel match Indy’s customized look (the original Mk VII bag has a built-in canvas shoulder strap). For me, however, I decided to get a 55″ Rothco General Purpose Nylon Strap. It is adjustable and has metal hooks on either end to mate with the customized metal rings on either side of Magnoli Clothiers’ Mk VII satchel.
The British Mk VII satchel measures about 11″ x 11″ x 3″. It has a number of compartments. The front-most pocket holds an Apple iPad Mini 4 with Smart Cover and a Muji A5 notebook. The large middle compartment is open at the bottom, but there is a divider making the left side slightly larger than the right. I put my 16 oz. Zojirushi thermos on the right and my lunch/supper fixings (usually MREs) on the left. Rolling about in the bottom of this compartment, I leave my pens, pencils, pocket knife, flashlight, eye drops, and Advil. In the back of the back against your body are two small pockets–my phone goes into one of these and my business cards in the other. Sewn between these pockets is a small pouch that holds a 1 oz. hand sanitizer bottle perfectly.
Over the past two weeks, I’ve been having great success with the British Mk VII satchel. Its affordances (It carries my essential things to and from work) and its constraints (Its smaller volume made me change my workflow to be honest with my carry-home workload and essentially carry less to and from work) have worked out very positively for me. I’m curious about how it will hold up in the long term, but its already received bumps and brushes on the street, train, and campus without any appreciable wear. If you are looking for a small bag for essentials, drink, food, and personal electronics, I highly recommend the British Mk VII satchel.