Backpacks play an important, yet controversial role
Backpacks are everywhere. Everywhere except on the actual back of the person carrying said backpack. On and off campus I see the latest trends of how not to wear a backpack. By now we all know that one-strapping (i.e. carrying the backpack using one strap on only one shoulder) the backpack is the wrong way to go, if you want to keep both your balance and your posture. But two-strapping the backpack and then wearing it low on the back is also the wrong way to go.
Backpacks weren’t always the cool thing to carry around. There were cross body bags, shoulder totes and the dreaded briefcase. But now backpacks are ubiquitous, and the brands are no less obvious. Is the wearer cool and street smart if they are wearing a Herschel or Fjallraven? Perhaps they’re into designer duds like Kate Spade and Valentino. Certainly the varieties and styles available make backpacks an easy purchase for all genders and all generations. I own several styles, sizes and brands myself.
Age seems not to be a barrier either, so the students of yesteryear now carry backpacks too, even though they went to school when “Saved By the Bell” was still on the air during prime time. They too wear these packs low slung. It’s fantastic when the use of a utilitarian item turns the fashion industry on its head. There is indeed a backpack for every season and every reason.
On the trains, I hear the announcement imploring people to take that pack and stow it on the floor, between their legs. But these entreaties fall on deaf ears; the backpack extends the person’s back well into the next car. These folks don’t exactly have the turn radius of a ballerina. Just because I can’t see my own backpack doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Perhaps these superheroes think their backpack is slim like a wallet, or that the rules of proper transit etiquette don’t apply to them.
I just don’t think proper consideration is given for backpack collateral damage. If a classmate turns too quickly, their keychain-sized Build-a-Bear adornment takes its own flight of fancy, taunting me like tether balls used to in grade school. The extra straps found on many backpacks have oftentimes ensnared one of my feet as I’ve taken a seat in class. I’m not even sure what purpose all those straps serve anyway.
In the summer months, I’ve seen beads of sweat emanating out from under those two straps on the Red Line. I can only imagine the sweaty cesspool underneath the actual backpack.
I often wonder what’s in those things that are so massive. Maps of the Appalachian Trail? Surely they’re not going directly from class to a three day hike? I’ve seen two water bottles, an umbrella, and full winter coats (in the middle of summer) and I think to myself: how long are these people going to be away from home that they feel it is so necessary to display their lives like this? It’s as if the wearer doesn’t realize that their side profile extends beyond their back.
The mini versions also boggle the mind. I can’t imagine anything useful is in there. Don’t get me wrong, I have at least one of each of the above. And they’re great as a fashion trend.
But a lot of people who eschew fashion trends and brands still wear them exactly the way a fashionista would: as a shoulder bag. The trendier the brand, the heavier the bag is, given all the metal zippers and bling, even before bag overstuffing begins.
How many sports do they play? How many books must they be carrying to classes?How big is their lunch pail?
Isn’t theft a concern? What if someone goes through their bags on a crowded train? (This happened to me and my friend on a train in Europe. We could feel hands and fingers deftly unclasping and unzipping our rucksacks, as we looked at each other helplessly.) Sure, cameras nowadays act as a huge deterrent, but that’s all they are, deterrents. Surely the multiple devices weighing down the inside of the backpack are costly and worth protecting with something more than a bedazzled zipper.
And there is always the option of a buttpack, a.k.a. fanny pack, which is achieving a resurgence.
I actually Googled “buttpack,” and turns out it’s a thing, but it’s a thing more for military operations, and has little to do with carrying devices from place to place. This gauche accessory of the 1980s and 1990s is making a comeback (along with “Friends” and pleated pants) and is now reborn as an outsized cross body of hellish proportions.
I don’t even know how one finds an item out of the 500 or so “must have” things they traipse from one location to another. Don’t even get me started on the zippers. You would need a decoder ring just to figure out what’s what.
I get that backpacks are an effective way to carry things, and they can hold a lot, but honestly they get in the way of proper public transiting and public decorum, and I really do wonder what’s inside that must be in there at all times. It’s the purse of the moment.
I do understand the need not to carry too many bags, and to be environmentally conscious and to save time, which none of us seem to have, between destinations. I still have to wonder what is everyone doing with all that free time — binge watching another must-see series on Netflix?
Perhaps a fall cleaning is in order? And while you’re at it, would you please tighten those straps? I’m sure your overprotective parents didn’t let you out of the house like that. It’s certainly not that there’s an age limit to wearing backpacks. I just struggle with the thought that they are so heavy and bulky, they ought to buy their own plane tickets and subway passes. Doesn’t anyone ever purge their contents?
At the end of the day, I have to ask, with apologies to Capital One: What’s in your backpack?