An alternate look at consumerism.

Over at Gizmodo, one can view James Savage’s spare room, filled with a working copy of almost every Apple computer ever made:


At Metafilter, user Pastabagel posted this on October 4, 2007.

Coveting possessions is unhealthy. Here’s how I look at it:

All of the computers on Ebay are mine. In fact, everything on Ebay is already mine. All of those things are just in long term storage that I pay nothing for. Storage is free.

When I want to take something out of storage, I just pay the for the storage costs for that particular thing up to that point, plus a nominal shipping fee, and my things are delivered to me so I can use them. When I am done with them, I return them to storage via Craigslist or Ebay, and I am given a fee as compensation for freeing up the storage facilities resources.

This is also the case with all of my stuff that Amazon and Walmart are holding for me. I have antiques, priceless art, cars, estates, and jewels beyond the dreams of avarice.

The world is my museum, displaying my collections on loan. The James Savages of the world are merely curators.

As I am the curator of their things, and thus together we all share the world.

A year ago, Pastabagel did an expanded essay on the same theme, which I felt was worth sharing:

Hi, I’m the author of that original post on Metafilter. (I can’t believe it’s been 7 years since I wrote that!). I’ve done a lot of thinking and writing about this, and I think what it boils down to is this.

The amount of freedom you have is directly proportional to the time between your desire for something and the moment you reach out to grasp it.

For most people, this time is short. The see something they want and immediately they reach for it. Consider the immortal words from Fight Club: “The things you own end up owning you.” If you are owned, then you are a slave. Slaves are not free.

If the thing you see arouses such a desire in you that you immediately move to own it, then you are not free. The thing own you, and you exist to serve it.

All these concepts like store, property, ownership, etc. are illusions designed to convince you that buying is something other than you giving someone your money, which is a physical manifestation of your time. (It literally represents the time that you worked in the past, or if on credit, the time you will have to work in the future to pay the debt.)

If you see something in a store that you like, you know exactly where it is. It’s in the store, safe and secure. You can go see it anytime you want. If you bought it, nothing would change but it’s position.

Now, you imagine that buying it changes your identity. You see the thing and your mind constructs a meaning for that thing (helpfully aided by advertising which is sooo impartial and on your side). This $12 moleskine notebook means I’m a creative( you think), unlike that $1 Staple notebook, which functions in exactly the same way.

You desire something because they made you desire it. I’m convinced that the forces of marketing and advertising are so effective and have been so thoroughly perfected, that it is almost impossible to resist for anyone. For any person, there is some product out there that these tricks work on. For you it’s sneakers, someone else is t-shirts, etc.

What we have to do is cultivate that control. You want this, but don’t reach for it. Walk away and ask yourself “why do I want that? What is it about that thing that makes me want it and not other things?” Replace the insitinctive motion to your wallet with an instinctive question. Why this?

And it’s true that you may never find it again, because it will be replaced by something else that you will immediately desire and have to have. And when that happens, the other thing will seem dulled and faded. There is always something new. Desire is never satisfied. It’s a an endless cycle.

Freedom is an act of resistance. The only force that operates on our lives now with any power is consumerism. The messages of consumerism will define our world and our identities if we don’t intervene on our own behalf. Your money is valuable because it represents your time, and your time is your life. Don’t trade your life for some new crap.

Look at the thing and admire the thought and creativity that went into it. And with your hands firmly in your pockets, turn and walk away.

This is, to me, extraordinarily sound advice, particularly for someone who is entranced by books, yarn, and geekology. I think I need to put this on my wall in the form of a “Desiderata” and look at it regularly. I mean, how many of the things that I “want” would I really use on a regular basis in a way that would enrich my life and the lives of others?

The Old Wolf has spoken.

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