Ah, the lowly tote bag
. In many ways, a symbol
of being part of the liberal establishment
The tote bag is usuall a small, canvas or canvas-like bag with a cloth handle. Usually the bag is made out of two flat pieces of cloth sewn together, like an envelope, such that the bag has little room to expand and fit items. The bag will have an open top without any closures. More useful bags are made with expanding sides and darted bottoms such that they have an intrinsic thickness which means they can hold things more easily.
The classic tote bag is most frequently seen as a giveaway or promotional item. Thus, the tote bag will usually have some insignia on it--either that of a company giving it away, or of the charitable organization that provided the tote bag in exchange for a contribution. Tote bags are also often complimentary gifts at conferences--and are usually just big enough to store conference materials. The flat nature of a tote bag can make it useful for storing papers and folders.
The problem with a tote bag is its general inconvenience. I have acquired numerous tote bags for participating in various activities, and have found little use for them. I try to use some as grocery bags when I shop at my co-op, but they can store very little, and will not sit upright in the car trunk or back seat when filled. Usually we use them for carrying library books or clothes or other small things (like bringing party food to a party). The advantage to those who provide tote bags is that their message is being shown about, and everyone knows you support National Public Radio or PBS or have a corporate relationship with Cisco, for instance. This is inexpensive advertising considering the simple and inexpensive quality of the tote bag.
I generally now eschew tote bags in general--looking for those that can be used as grocery bags, or at least are durable and rugged. I'm also happy with computing conferences that are now providing very useful things like laptop bags or backpacks of good quality. It seems to me the popularity of tote bags are waning, since they are less frequently used by public broadcasting as promotional items, these organizations more frequently using books or videotapes that are tie-ins to their programming.
Please note that you can now buy an e2 tote bag at http://www.cafepress.com/nodeheaven. This tote bag has a gusset on the bottom, and long handles, and thus is a good quality tote bag.