Wednesday, March 18, 2015

The Island of Knowledge: The Limits of Science and the Search for Meaning

Is there a limit to what we can know? This is one of the great questions that have occupied the creative minds of some of the world’s most illustrious luminaries. All of them have been stumped and no definitive answer has been provided. The advance of science (or perhaps more specifically, the advance of technology) is changing the epistemological landscape and the old unanswerable questions about limits to human understanding are being brought to sharp focus.
Enter Marcelo Gleiser and his latest work The Island of Knowledge. The book is a broad treatment of the topic. Gleiser begins at the beginning with a discussion of the earliest philosophers of ancient Greece and highlights their ruminations on the nature of the world and the limits of what we can know about it. The narrative speeds along through history to the quantum age. This isn’t a history book. You won’t find here an exhaustive account of all the philosophers and scientists who have produced some answer to the mystery of knowledge limitations. He spends some time on the history of science and epistemology to ground the book and to show the perennial befuddlement of all attempts to grapple with the topic. Most of the book is spent discussing modern science and the breathtaking weirdness of what physicists and astronomers have uncovered. It is here, in our day, where we see most clearly the answer to the above question. Everywhere you turn, in every intellectual discipline of science, the same answer resounds: Yes, there are limits to what we can know about the world and ourselves.
Gleiser enumerates the findings of various disciplines, particularly physics, astronomy and mathematics, highlighting technological limitations to our ability to observe the universe both at the macro (big bang and expanding universe) and at the micro levels (the quantum world).  The implications of quantum physics are especially disconcerting to individuals who want the certainty that comes with absolute knowledge.  Gleiser spends most of his analytical-descriptive work on the quantum age.
There will be some readers who will say, when they are told there is a limit to what we can know, “Well duh!” But for many scientists whose lives are informed by an ethic of the search for ultimate answers, a search that will eventually be rewarded, this conclusion will come as a shock—kind of like cold water splashed on the brain. We exist on an island. This fact must be faced boldly and digested for all the import it will have on what one might call the “meaning of intellectual life.”
The final chapter acts as an epitaph to the absolutist’s dream. I will quote one passage at some length as a finale to this review.
It is too simplistic a hope to aspire to complete knowledge. Science needs to fail in order to move forward. We may crave certainty but must embrace uncertainty in order to grow. We are surrounded by horizons, by incompleteness. All we see are shadows on cave walls. Yet it is also too simplistic to consider such limits as insurmountable obstacles. Limits are triggers: they teach us something about ourselves while taunting us to keep edging forward, in search of answers. We push the limits and keep on pushing so that we can better know who we are. The same ongoing growth process that we see in science—forward, backward, but always charging ahead—we should see in each of us, in our individual pursuits. The day we become too afraid to step into the unknown is the day we stop growing.  (p.280).
It is a grand statement and adds a bit of poetic musing to the final chapter of the book. Allow me two observations. First notice the allusion to Plato and “shadows on cave walls.” Plato, a very keen observer of human nature, prodded his fellow Athenians to reach for the permanent unchanging Forms as the only true hope for knowledge. This world view is passé these days—that there may be some eternal, unchanging realm beyond the mundane—but wouldn’t it be nice. Secondly, it may be the way I read the book and this passage in particular, but I can’t help but think that Gleiser bristles and chomps at the bit as one who cannot quite commit to his own conclusions. The limits to knowledge are chaffing. He vacillates, at one moment saying we are surrounded by incompleteness and at the next suggests it is too simplistic to think these limits insurmountable obstacles.  Here then is the human condition, we live on an island of knowledge looking out to horizons we just can’t reach. Odd. Frustrating.  And yet the mystery (it seems to me a mystery) enchants the world.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Frost On My Moustache: The Arctic Exploits of a Lord and a Loafer

Frost On My Moustache: The Arctic Exploits of a Lord and a Loafer is Tim Moore's a hilarious laugh-on-every-page account of his Arctic adventures. His trip from England to Iceland, then to the Faroes, Norway, Jan Mayen (almost) and concluding in the Svalbard archipelago was not a voyage chosen at random. Moore decided to mirror the exploits of Lord Dufferin, who is known to Canadians as our third Governor-General. Lord Dufferin explored the north Atlantic in 1856 and published his own amusing travel tale, Letters from High LatitudesFrost On My Moustache can be looked at as a modern-day Letters. Moore kept me laughing, and since I had been to many of the same places, I felt a degree of familiarity that only made me laugh more.

Moore spent most of his nine-week adventure in Iceland. I am planning a two-week trip to Iceland this summer, although I did spend an entire day in Reykjavík in the summer of 2013, so the references to the capital city were still fresh. What I found most interesting though was Moore's cycle trek across the country. Roads suddenly disappeared and he was left bouncing his tires over rough lava, worrying about getting a flat. His observations about the perils of the outdoors sounded both serious as well as downright hilarious:

"What heightened the senses was the complete absence of warning signs, fences or barriers. In Iceland, a healthy respect for the nation's geological and climactic [1] extremes is taken for granted. If they went around trying to signpost every danger the nation would be bankrupted. 'Warning--enormous hidden hole in ground', 'Danger--no shops or petrol or any living thing for miles and miles--oh yeah, and you just fell into a geyser'. That's what Iceland is about--confronting the elements, and man's puniness beside them. Don't look where you're going in the English countryside and you tread in a cowpat; here you disappear into a glacial crevasse. Get lost in the English countryside and you miss last orders: here you freeze to death up an unknown mountain and have the trolls pick at your bleached bones for a millennium until an earthquake affords you a proper burial."
British-born and well familiar with imbibing a good pint at a pub, Moore nonetheless was taken aback by the degree of drunkenness he saw throughout the entire length of his travels:

"In my nine weeks away I saw more deeply drunk people--people with no control of their necks, people arguing with seagulls, people so dangerously wayward that everyone weaved out of the way and stared back with horrified intrigue in the expectation that they'd imminently fall off a quay or steal a tram--than I think I've seen in the previous ten years in London."

Although married to an Icelander, Moore still has difficulty wrapping his tongue around the Icelandic language. He can never pronounce the name of the town Höfn correctly, despite numerous attempts. After failing to make himself understood in Icelandic, Moore drew the following conclusion:

"Scandinavians are so good at English that they even have two names for their own towns--one as pronounced by the natives, the other by idiot tourists. They are not programmed to deal with the possibility of an idiot tourist attempting the native pronunciation. I was rather taken aback, for instance, to hear that the correct Norwegian pronunciation of Oslo is actually the reasonably hilarious 'Oooshloo'. but, on the single occasion I tried that out, the woman at the ferry terminal in Bergen gave me a leaflet about Newcastle."

His olfactory perceptions of Höfn left much to be desired:

"Icelanders often tell you that their fish doesn't smell. Only fish that is rotting smells, as it were, of fish, and theirs is all too fresh. Unfortunately with regard to this maxim, the whole of Höfn stinks like a smouldering, month-old whale carcass."

I discovered Frost on My Moustache while researching the north Atlantic Norwegian island of Jan Mayen. There is not much written in English about this small island. I would love to visit this isolated volcanic drop in the ocean yet the only way to get there is by military plane. Norway does not permit independent travel to Jan Mayen and tourists, who have extremely limited opportunities to do much on Jan Mayen as it is, must receive official government approval. Even if you have jumped through all the required hoops, Mother Nature can thwart all travel by her tumultuous seas or rough winds. Unfortunately Moore's plane had to return to Bodø, Norway on account of bad winds, although he did manage to see the volcanic peak through the clouds. By coincidence Lord Dufferin could not land at Jan Mayen either, so Moore was truly following in the lord's footsteps.

That both attempted visits to Jan Mayen were thwarted was fitting, for throughout Frost Moore tries to out-Dufferin Lord Dufferin, yet never really feels he succeeds in outranking the big guy. The abruptly cancelled landing on Jan Mayen showed that he could never surpass his predecessor in feats of bravery or fortitude. Moore was plagued by seasickness and could only wonder if the lord suffered as much as he did. The nausea cast a doom of always being second best:

"They called lunch, and I was forced to concede that though I'd paid for the food, turning it down was probably preferable to throwing it up."

Moore's travels end in the Svalbard archipelago, the main island of which is Spitsbergen. While I was in northern Norway in the summer of 2013 I bought a large travel book on Svalbard as well as an enormous map. One day too I would like to explore the eightieth parallel. During his time on these islands Moore always had to be on alert for polar bears and often lagged behind his much fitter exploration team. Frost painted some gorgeous images of the north, and the picture I liked best was Moore's description of icebergs scattered across the fjord:

"Anyway, everyone got their polar bears in the end, the captain having got into the what-the-hell spirit of Spitzbergen by nosing the Nordstjernen right up to the foot of the Prince Albert glacier through a lethal fleet of car-sized bergs which boomed against our flaking, dented hull with disturbing regularity. The whole fjord was sprinkled with smaller shards floating motionlessly on glassy water, twinkling in the garish 11.45 p.m. sun. It looked like someone had dropped a chandelier out of an airship."

I like a laugh-out-loud travel tale that I can't put down. I burst out laughing many times while reading this on the bus. Frost appealed to me even more because I could compare notes with Moore since we took similar trips. Perhaps I will make it to Jan Mayen and out-Dufferin them all.

[1] shouldn't it be climatic extremes?

                            Find this book in the Mississauga Library System's on-line catalogue

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Dirty minds: how our brains influence love, sex and relationships

Dirty minds: how our brains influence love, sex and relationships is an ambitious book that attempts to discover what impacts the brain and genetics have on how and why; love, sex and relationships develop in human beings. The book is by professional science writer Kayt Sukel, and according to her was written to help her understand the inner workings of love after her relationship with her (now ex) husband dramatically changed after the birth of their first child.

It is important to note that the book is a discussion of what happens from a neurological perspective to people when they are in love or when they become attracted to someone. It’s not a dating advice book, which the author clearly states in the introduction, it does not try to tell you that similar brain chemistry or brain functions are the key to everlasting happiness and if dating advice is what you’re after this is not the book for you. If you love reading about neurological and biological studies told by a relatable narrator and punctuated with some funny personal stories, you have found a fantastic read! Though I am not a huge reader fan of biology and neurology I thought the book was a fun and engaging and it was nice that this Valentine’s day instead of reading how to attract a partner I was learning that my brain is an amazing organ and that every crush I have ever had involved some serious neuroscience.

The title Dirty Minds may lead you to believe that the love discussed in the book is of the 18+ variety and to be honest that’s what I expected when I picked up the book. Romantic love is the main focus however it is far from the only focus and the book explores some very diverse types of love. Heterosexual and homosexual attraction were the bulk of the book, but less expected chapters on familial love, religious ‘love’ and the idea of unconditional love were also present.  All of these types of love were explored from a neurological perspective and there was very little discussion outside of that. For example the book didn't go into philosophical or religious discussions about whether there is an all loving and all powerful God, instead focusing on how thinking about loving God impacts the brain. It makes no judgements about how people choose to love only that in every case the brain reacts to the feeling of love in interesting ways.

Despite how relatable Sukel is this is still at its core a very technical book and there are some confusing explanations of brain chemistry, most of them relating directly to the brain and human hormones acting on the brain. I could tell through Sukel’s frequent uses of examples and diagrams that she is trying to dumb down the science for the casual reader. That being said I still found some sections hard to understand, (especially since my formal training in biology stopped after 11th grade.) Long names of hormonal chains and neurochemical processes were especially easy to get bogged down in. The book never quite got to the point where it was frustrating or made me want to stop reading. When it seems like Sukel is straying away from the core topic (love, sex and the brain) while talking about hormones or complex scientific studies she manages to bring the topic back to the original intent and tie everything together neatly.

There were also interesting sections on the male and female brain, discounting much of the Men are From Mars women are from Venus rhetoric that pop culture has given us. The neurobiologists in the book scoff at explaining away behaviour like infidelity or lack of sex drive as being inherent to the sexes. They argue that humans have a much bigger section of their brain devoted to cognition and reasoning so to blame things, like cheating on brain development is wrong. Though there are slight differences noted in male and female brain development, men and women’s brains experience love in almost the exact same way.

As the title would suggest the book is funny, though the humour is sometimes racy it never lived up the ‘dirty’ aspect implied in the title, though I am notoriously hard to shock or scandalize. The humour is mostly self-deprecating and ironic and the drier parts of the book are spiked with jokes and personal stories. One of the most memorable stories was when she participated in a study where she was asked to achieve orgasm in an FMRI machine. This study was to map how orgasms influence chemicals in the brain. The whole sequence of events leading up to and following the FMRI orgasm are told with brutal and hilarious honesty and vivid detail.

Dirty minds promises it will not promote or solicit dating advice or try to sell anything that would increase success in love. Sukel does not waver from that position. She explores various neurobiological responses to things like dopamine and pheromones and hormones but concludes that their actual impact on romantic love is questionable. Both she and the scientists running these experiments say that brain chemistry is only a small piece in a huge puzzle of what dictates love and attraction.

The book as a whole is more of a how things work guide to the brain rather than a why things work guide to romance. The studies cited tend to be inconclusive and are more focussed on showing that things happen rather than explaining why they happen and on the whole show little promise in unlocking a complete understanding human behaviour in love. The book notes over and over that humans are more complex than their brain chemistry and that a book focused solely on the biological aspect of attraction does not tell the whole story on what makes people attractive or fall love with one another. That being said if you are interested in brain chemistry, neurology, biology and love, this book and you will be a match made in heaven.  As for me I'm not in love with the book but more than happy to remain friends.

Friday, March 13, 2015

The Great Dissent: How Oliver Wendell Holmes Changed His Mind -- and Changed the History of Free Speech in America

by Thomas Healy

Freedom of speech today is one of the essential democratic freedoms that citizens have come to cherish. Less than one hundred years ago, however, people could be imprisoned for merely criticizing government policies.

Thomas Healy’s book, The Great Dissent, tells the story of how the United States came to embrace freedom of speech, as protected by the First Amendment to their Constitution. The story revolves around one man: Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. (b. 1841; d. 1935), who served as Supreme Court Justice from 1902 to 1932.

Healy traces Holmes’s path, his “journey toward enlightenment”, as the first-born son of a well-established Boston-area family. Holmes, already a veteran of the American Civil War, attended Harvard Law School and became an attorney. While practising, he worked on his book, The Common Law, in which he showed how the common law evolves, based on precedent. The only book written by a practising attorney, at first it earned Holmes much criticism, but went on to become one of the most influential books on law and is still in print today. Shortly after this publication, Holmes was named to the Massachussetts Supreme Court, where he served for 20 years, before stepping up to the U.S. Supreme Court. Until this time, he seldom wrote dissenting judgements, and those few did not involve constitutional law. 

In the United States, near the end of the First World War, issues regarding freedom of speech emerged. Did the First Amendment protect freedom of speech, and if so, were there any limits on this freedom? Should people have the right to object to wartime conscription? In peace time, did only those whose cause was “just” have the right to speak freely? Did those who worked to overthrow the government also have that right? Such questions formed part of the discourse. 

Healy’s narrative really begins with a chance meeting on a train in 1918. Holmes and his wife take the train from Boston to their weekend cottage. A young attorney by the named of Learned Hand also boards the train, recognizes Justice Holmes, introduces himself, and takes the opportunity to make a somewhat rushed argument for freedom of speech. Healy documents this brief conversation and the ensuing correspondence, which he argues may have started the evolution in Holmes’s views on the subject. In subsequent chapters Healy shows how Holmes’s very bright young friends – Hand, Laski, Brandeis, and Chafee – who held “progressive” opinions on the law, helped shape his thinking – so much so that on the Abrams vs. United States (1919) case, Holmes wrote probably his most famous and often quoted “dissent” – and found in favour of the defendants

This superbly documented and eloquent book makes “lighter” reading out of some fairly heavy –  yet stirring and thought-provoking –  material. The inclusion of personal letters, excerpts from Holmes’s written judgements, and photographs round out the picture of Holmes. Endnotes, an extensive bibliography, and an index complete the volume. This is a very satisfying read, especially for those interested in constitutional law and/or the history of the civil rights movement.

Find this book in the library catalogue. 

This book review was first published in The Business Bridge, the eNewsletter of the Central Library Sciences and Business Department. To read the latest book reviews on business and related topics, why not sign up for The Business Bridge, at:

Keynes Way to Wealth: Timeless Investment Lessons from the Great Economist

by John F. Wasik

No doubt you have heard of John Maynard Keynes (1883 – 1946), the famous British economist and father of Keynesian economics. Some may not realize, however, to what extent his ideas on investing have become key concepts, used by portfolio managers and individual investors worldwide. Investors can thank Keynes for “inventing” and developing such concepts as “opposing risks” within a portfolio; “risk premium”; and the “book value” of a company – a core principle of value investing.

Wasik’s book, Keynes’s Way to Wealth, follows Keynes (the son of a Cambridge don of modest income) from his beginnings as a student on scholarship at Eton and King’s College, Cambridge, where he especially excelled in mathematics. From there he entered the India Office as a clerk, and collected material for his first book on economics, Indian Currency and Finance. After returning to Cambridge to teach, he went to work for the British Treasury Office, and by 1919 was the British Treasury’s principal officer at the Treaty of Versailles. That year his book, Economic Consequences of the Peace, was published, in which he condemned the severe reparation measures imposed on Germany, and showed why Germany would turn to fascism.

Against this backdrop, Keynes began investing his own and his family’s money around 1911 (age 28), using the “dollar-cost averaging” method. By the start of   World War I, he was developing his theories – for example, the probability of a stock going up or down – and these were published in his next book, A Treatise on Probability, in 1921.

Wasik takes a logical, chronological approach to revealing what an investor can learn from Keynes’s methods. At key points, he provides detailed examinations of how Keynes succeeded as an investor, and how he became wiser and more successful from lessons learned through losing money, and how he then went on to further develop his investment strategies for creating wealth while minimizing risk.

The chapter, “The Birth of Value”, may prove of particular interest to investors. Referring to Keynes’s seminal work published in 1936, The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money, Wasik presents the crux of Keynes’s insights in two brief sections. He devotes one concise paragraph to each key point, itself expressed in one short, bolded, sentence for further emphasis and clarity. As an investment guidebook, this makes for an easy read; as a biography, the inspirational personality of Keynes himself engages the reader, cover to cover.

John C. Bogle, the renowned economist and investment manager, says in the Foreword, Wasik’s book is “a true gem – fascinating, carefully researched, and ... snappy and eminently readable”.  This is high praise, but well deserved – few books on investing or economists are this worthwhile or enjoyable to read.

Find this title in the library catalogue. 

This book review was first published in The Business Bridge, the eNewsletter of the Central Library Sciences and Business Department. To read the latest book reviews on business and related topics, why not sign up for The Business Bridge, at:

Friday, March 6, 2015

Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things

Hoarding is a hot topic these days, and often approached through a lurid, sensational lens - eccentric recluses and their hoards of junk are exposed for public entertainment. You'll find none of that in Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things by psychologists Randy O. Frost and Gail Steketee. Instead, the book is rich with insight based on solid research, combined with large doses of empathy, patience, and compassion. The book was written to help hoarding sufferers and the people who love them recognize and understand their affliction, and begin to seek help.

The words sufferers and affliction are appropriate, as readers of this book will learn. Hoarding is a serious psychological disorder that ruins lives. People with comfortable incomes live in poverty, marriages end, families are wrecked, children grow up isolated, fearful, and ashamed, all because of an addiction to amassing things, and a total inability to part with any material object.

Many people love to collect things, and most people in our culture attach emotional meaning to certain objects - things that we would find painful to lose or have taken from us. What distinguishes the healthy collector or saver from a hoarder is the same metric applied to most addictions. Does this behaviour cause distress? Does it interfere with a person's health and happiness? Frost explains:
Many of the people we see experience great distress because of their hoarding. Acquiring and saving things has wrecked them financially and socially, driven their families away, and impaired their ability to carry out basic activities of living.
Stuff is organized around personal case studies, people who generously (and anonymously) shared their painful stories with the researchers, and whose stories illustrate the strange signatures of hoarding addiction. Although not written in a tabloid style, the stories themselves are nonetheless amazing and sometimes horrifying.

You'll meet wealthy brothers who fill up their huge apartment until it's no longer habitable, then move to another apartment - and fill that up, and move again. You'll meet people who cannot drive by a mall without buying dozens, hundreds of items - although they have no money to buy them with and no space to put them. Then they don't allow anyone to touch what they buy. There are people who cannot part with a single piece of paper - not a cash register receipt, not a coupon flyer - ever, for any reason. There's the woman who collects cookbooks, piled so high on every kitchen surface that her kitchen is completely unusable.

Many strange and fascinating features come to light. For example, when a person who hoards sees photographs of her own home, she doesn't recognize it, and cannot - does not - believe it is the place she lives in. She's disgusted and wants to change. But when she's in that same home, within her hoard, she doesn't see it at all and believes it to be perfectly normal.

The authors show that help is possible, but progress is typically slow, painful, and yields only partial success. Forced clean-outs - often undertaken by a department of health, at tremendous expense - produce only short-term success. As the underlying issues that cause the hoarding behaviour have not been addressed, the hoarder re-fills the space, often within days.

Not only are the forced clean-outs ineffective, they are dangerous. There are several documented cases of forced clean-outs being followed by suicide. This reminded me of the horrific advice of some pseudo-professionals who counsel families of children (and dogs) with phobias to "flood" the sufferer with massive amounts of what they fear. The results are predictable and tragic: permanent trauma, often with dangerous, violent expression.

Yet these forced clean-outs may be necessary: hoarding is associated with extreme health and safety issues - malnutrition, fire hazards, and vermin, to name only the obvious few. (Readers with insect phobias are strongly cautioned: do not read Chapter 9! I wish I hadn't. My stomach still churns at the thought.)

The famous Collyer Brothers of New York City, whose names have become synonymous with hoarding, were killed by their hoard. Homer Collyer was incapacitated and depended on his brother Langley to feed him. One day, Langley tripped one of his own traps, and suffocated to death under a crush of bales of newspaper. Without Langley to attend him, Homer died of a heart attack caused by starvation. Homer's emaciated body was found first. After three weeks of excavating, workers recovered Langley's body - which had been only 10 feet away.

When the rumour spread that the brothers had died, it took police hours to create even the tiniest crawl space to enter the Harlem mansion. In the first two weeks of work, workers removed 19 tons of debris, and had barely made a dent. Even more amazing is the fact that the Collyer Brothers were not unique in the annals of hoarding. Stuff is full of many such extreme stories.

The psychological underpinnings of hoarding are complex and only partially understood. The defense mechanism known as avoidance is definitely in play. People who are afraid of experiencing any anxiety, unhappiness, or loss - all normal parts of life - find that shopping and accumulating temporarily assuages these feelings. By constantly employing avoidance techniques, they never learn to cope with these normal feelings - never build up the requisite strength and maturity to withstand ordinary stress - thus creating a cycle of dependency on the drug of accumulation.

During therapy, a hoarding sufferer can gradually - oh so very gradually - learn to face unpleasant feelings, learn that they can withstand those feelings, and can gradually begin to let go of their coping mechanisms. Frost and Steketee also point to other traits shared by most hoarders, such as an ability to find beauty and meaning in absolutely everything, no matter how seemingly trivial, and extreme indecisiveness.

Many readers who are not hoarders themselves may recognize hoarders in their own families. Children of hoarders grow up afraid and isolated, ashamed to allow outsiders to see the condition of their homes, learning to lie easily as they create cover stories for their parents, similar to children of substance abusers. Children of hoarders often don't realize that their "big secret" - as one adult child of a hoarding parent called it - is a recognized problem, that other households like theirs exist. Children of hoarders have found support, comfort, and coping advice through online and in-person support groups.

The final chapter of Stuff was especially interesting to me: the authors frame hoarding in a social context. Although hoarding has been documented over centuries and in many cultures, it appears to be more prevalant now than ever, a psychological disorder of our age. Consumer culture, which encourages acquisition and measures value according to things, would seem to lead inexorably to hoarding. We live in a world of buy, buy, buy, more, more, more.

If an attachment to material wealth is seen on a continuum, with an ascetic refusal of all materialism on one end, and hoarding on the other, what is "normal" in our culture falls much closer to the hoarding end of the spectrum. The authors reference the psychoanalyst and philosopher Erich Fromm, who contrasted a life defined by having versus a life defined by being. Fromm forecasted a society obsessed with possessions, where people were obsessed with having, in an addictive cycle of acquisition, fleeting happiness, followed by the need for more acquisition, but never finding satisfaction.

Frost writes:
Forty years ago, facilities for storing unused personal possessions were virtually nonexistent. Now nearly two billion square feet of space can be rented for storage in more than 45,0000 facilities, and most of that space is already full. In March 2007 the New York Times reported that self-storage unit rentals had increased by 90 percent since 1995 and more than 11 million American households rented outside storage space.
Frost explains that this is not temporary storage for people who had just moved. It is long-term storage - like a huge extra closet that you pay for, for stuff you never see or use.  (This review was originally published on wmtc.)