The consumer fallacy the tech-sector surrounds us with is that the progress we need comes in upgrades.
All these people, telling stories about the stories that their things tell about them.
Mechanical watches partake of what my friend John Clute calls the Tamagotchi Gesture. They’re pointless in a peculiarly needful way; they’re comforting precisely because they require tending.
I owe my livelihood to technology and I love the raw capability it offers us as a tool, but I fear it a bit more than most people do. It’s a tool, but it’s not quite a hammer, because a hammer doesn’t seduce you into sitting around lonely in your underwear for 6 hours at a stretch.
Extreme couponers, if you count the value of their time, basically make a modest living doing below-minimum-wage marketing work for the coupon-based marketing universe that welcomes them as raving fans.
From the point of view of the stores, far from being hostile opponents in some asymmetric game of chess, these are merely cheap and committed marketers. They are encouraged to model, in extreme ways, the very couponing behaviors that the marketing machine wants others to emulate in less extreme ways.
Which is exactly what happens. So long as you and I casually clip and use coupons, inspired by the extreme couponers in our midst, the grocery stores still comes out on top. If the extreme couponers’ leadership behavior were to actually lead to large-scale loss-driving sedition by too many customers, the store could easily staunch the losses overnight, by making minor changes to coupon-redemption rules.
I hadn’t thought about it this way.
There’s only one problem with home cinema: it doesn’t exist. The very phrase is an oxymoron. As you pause your film to answer the door or fetch a Coke, the experience ceases to be cinema. Even the act of choosing when to watch means you are no longer at the movies. Choice—preferably an exhaustive menu of it—pretty much defines our status as consumers, and has long been an unquestioned tenet of the capitalist feast, but in fact carte blanche is no way to run a cultural life (or any kind of life, for that matter), and one thing that has nourished the theatrical experience, from the Athens of Aeschylus to the multiplex, is the element of compulsion. Someone else decides when the show will start; we may decide whether to attend, but, once we take our seats, we join the ride and surrender our will. The same goes for the folks around us, whom we do not know, and whom we resemble only in our private desire to know more of what will unfold in public, on the stage or screen. We are strangers in communion, and, once that pact of the intimate and the populous is snapped, the charm is gone. Our revels now are ended.
See also Brian Eno on surrender.
Perhaps you should consider consuming less, but consuming something special. Prioritizing something that pays a person who is creating a product that approaches art, rather than approaching widget.
Leisure is as much about our pleasant fantasies as it is about what we’re actually doing.
What’s great about this country is that America started the tradition where the richest consumers buy essentially the same things as the poorest. You can be watching TV and see Coca-Cola, and you can know that the President drinks Coke, Liz Taylor drinks Coke, and just think, you can drink Coke too. A Coke is a Coke and no amount of money can get you a better Coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking… All of this is really American.
Engineers of immersive retail must understand that we buy things when we are bored and not when we’re excited, alive, and metaphysically horny—that these feelings are just promises to get us in the door.
Speaking of bohemians, I like this bit from a 1970 review of Easy Rider and Alice’s Restaurant. (via I forget who)
The current generation of bohemians and radicals hasn’t decided whether to love or hate America. On a superficial level, the dominant theme has been hate—for the wealth and greed and racism and complacency, the destruction of the land, the bullshit rhetoric of democracy, and the average American’s rejection of aristocratic European standards of the good life in favor of a romance with mass-produced consumer goods. But love is there too, perhaps all the more influential for being largely unadmitted. There is the old left strain of love for the “real” America, the Woody Guthrie-Pete Seeger America of workers-farmers-hoboes, the open road, this-land-is-your-land. And there is the newer pop strain, the consciousness—initiated by Andy Warhol and his cohorts, popularized by the Beatles and their cohorts, evangelized by Tom Wolfe, and made respectable in the bohemian ghettos by Bob Dylan and Ken Kesey—that there is something magical and vital as well as crass about America’s commodity culture, that the romance with consumer goods makes perfect sense if the consumer goods are motorcycles and stereo sets and far-out clothes and Spider Man comics and dope. How can anyone claim to hate America, deep down, and be a rock fan? Rock is America—the black experience, the white experience, technology, commercialism, rebellion, populism, the Hell’s Angels, the horror of old age—as seen by its urban adolescents.
I am frankly embarrassed that most of my musical life has been spent in the search for new materials. The significance of new materials is that they represent, I believe, the incessant desire in our culture to explore the unknown. Before we know the unknown, it inflames our hearts. When we know it, the flame dies down, only to burst forth again at the thought of a new unknown. This desire has found expression in our culture in new materials, because our culture has its faith not in the peaceful center of the spirit but in an ever-hopeful projection onto things of our own desire for completion.