Our global economy is built on frivolous consumerism.
With more and more products out there in this world, there is a product for every whim your brain may conjure. Every brand's marketing will tell you that buying their product will mean you can now do this, that it is all you need to have the lifestyle that you dream of. Five life-changing products later, you're still sitting on your chair scrolling through pages after pages of things you can buy.
By now, there are tons of research about the effects shopping have on us, whether is it the fact that waiting for our online purchases to arrive at our doorstep actually increases the pleasure we get, or that our brain naturally creates a vision of us living an idealised lifestyle, and takes reference from the media we consume to create this vision.
We buy emotionally, and my to-go example of emotional advertising is always the GoPro. Most of us aren't going to be deep-water soloing on a cliff in Krabi, front-flipping off the canyons of Utah, free-climbing up the Dawn Wall, carving a 360 off the shores of Hawaii, or free-diving with great white sharks, but that's exactly what they're advertising to us — the idea that you need a GoPro to lead that interesting life. The omission of "Lifestyle not included" at the end of their advertisements is glaring.
Phone manufacturers have adapted to our thirst for new toys masterfully; since the iPhone's inception in 2007, Apple has released a new one annually. While the first few iterations do in fact include generational improvements, that sort of progress has largely ended. Since the iPhone 4, each release brings about insignificant improvements in performance, and some "side-grades" like Animoji, then Memoji, sprinkled on top — "The best iPhone, yet", everyone.
To be sure, while I specifically used the iPhone as an example, this is of course not limited to just Apple; across all manufacturers, new smartphone improvements are now mostly incremental. Slightly better battery life, slightly better processors, slightly more megapixels. Every two years, we head to the nearest branch of our network providers to partake in the ritual of upgrading our pocket supercomputers.
Do we really need such power in our pockets though? Take a look at your app usage on your smartphones and you will find that more often than not, the apps with the highest usage belong to one of three categories:
- instant messaging (WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Telegram, etc),
- social media (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, Reddit, etc),
- media consumption (Netflix, Youtube, Spotify, etc).
These apps are all basically dumb terminals connecting to a monolithic mega server-farm somewhere out there; the processing power on your phone is hardly relevant.
Beyond mobile phones, mindless consumption habits abound — Fast fashion allows us to buy cheap clothes that last about as long as our shortened attention span, never mind the environmental cost. You can now live your entire life in cheap products bought from Taobao, or Qoo10, or Amazon. Why buy 2 USB cables when you can buy 20? I know someone who bought a box of at least 40 end caps for bicycles; about 38 too many for the one bicycle he owns.
While researching for this post, I was looking through a lot of advertisements, and got really sidetracked. Two hours later, I emerged from my trance with an incomplete post, about 7 different bags I want to buy, and a lousy anecdote.
The ability to tell ourselves "what I have is good enough" is a superpower; it is our biggest defence against the cacophony of advertisements that surrounds us and, in my opinion, one of the keystone habits that has a ripple effect throughout your life.
Now, I just need to remember to tell myself that whenever I look at beautiful bicycles.