Thursday, May 14, 2009

Everything is Everything: The Thursday Edition 2.0

I didn't realize it but, I'm closing in on 500. What's this you ask? Well, it's 500 posting to the CorneliusOnpoint blog site. How the hell did this happen? It was the determination or down right craziness of the idea that I could some what fill a niche that was missing in the SGL community. A daily forum that keeps funky fresh, unabashed and untetethered. It's that thing that I do, that many of you are consuming for various reasons both said and unsaid. It's all here, each a everyday as I "keep it real and onpoint." I know you are out there in Star City, Cabot, Warren, North Little Rock, Pine Bluff, Russellville and many other Arkansas points. Here's a big "Thanks" for reading and join us daily here at COP:24/7.

From one of my favorite online sources, QueerCents, it's another interesting look at life from someone eles prospesctive. I encourage local writers but so far, "crickets." Anyway, Ms. Regan shares her viewpoint in this item.

How many are the things I can do without

I read my news online, of course, and since I’m a technological, work-from-home kind of person who can browse websites with indiscretion, I often go to geek sites like Sadly, I recently encountered an ad for a child’s computer and immediately went into ‘I want this and now!!’ mode. The fact that two toddlers were pawing their filthy hands all over my laptop as I browsed (multi-tasking – it’s a way of life) was a major motivation. The thought that I’d need two of them to fully occupy their zombie-like attack was a major inhibitor. My response, of course, was to put off any final decision and stop visiting that website.
That’s the short version of this article, if you’re too busy to read the whole thing:
- put off buying stuff and you’ll probably forget about it
- avoid advertising so you don’t even know about it
For those of you with leisurely online access, let me break down exactly how this works. Variety is the spice of life or, as we used to say in the days when I studied psychology and felt very scientific about it… variety stimulates appetite. This effect is so comprehensive I can’t even remember when I first encountered it. It is the basis for most diet plans. Restricting your intake to just a few foods will make you eat less. It doesn’t really matter if it’s grapefruits and olives, avoiding bread, or avoiding everything except bread. You will eat less, and unless you’ve chosen to eat nothing but cupcakes, you will probably lose weight. Eventually, we all get sick of what we’re used to. Yes, we definitely have favourites that we return to repeatedly, but our desire for them is refreshed and heightened by intermittent sampling of their alternates. You can quote me on that line the next time your monogamous lover elbows you in the ribcage for cruising a tempting stranger.
Advertising is most benignly seen as a form of information-sharing about the marketplace. Fundamentally, however, its offer of variety results in the predictable effect of stimulating our appetites. Prior to my viewing of this product review (not even an ad, by the way, just a detailed consumer review of a new product) I had no desire to provide children with laptops. If you’d asked, I would have said that’s a stupid idea. However, I had often yanked by own laptop away from their prying hands, but surely that’s a lesson about sitting at my desk or the kitchen table to do work now instead of the living room couch. This vague desire, however, coalesced into a consumer solution – laptops for all!! – instead of a behavioural change I was too lazy to make – sit at a table. Knowledge of the marketplace, and the choices that beckon, create a desire in us to satisfy our life’s desire through commerce. I offer up the following self-experiments for you to try: spend 1 week browsing online listings something you don’t actually want to buy, at least not right now. If you are definitely not in the market for a car, a house, a toy train or miniature doll house then locate advertising for those items and follow them for about a week.
You’ll notice a number of psychological effects:
1. The market will establish a set price. A ‘good’ price is unknowable for many items we consume, since we know little about what’s involved in producing these items. Also, new products on the market that are hard to compare make it hard to figure out a ‘good’ price. We allow external factors, like the supposedly competitive market, determine the value of things. $2000 for a dog? I’m sure it’s possible. $400 for doll’s clothing? Try and find that bargain out there. Half a million for a house? Not a problem.
2. You will start to notice a bargain when you see it. Human brains are expert pattern-recognition factories. In fact, we see patterns even where none exist. At any rate, a very quick perusal of market pricing will provide a set point at which we notice it’s a bargain. We also notice, and are willing to spend more for, items that are unique, rare or new. Since bargains are rare by definition, their sheer existence can make us excited about something that we wouldn’t otherwise want. This is why people buy stuff they never use when it’s on sale.
3. You start to want things you weren’t really thinking about. Just like we notice a lingering hunger when the dessert tray comes around, we notice other dormant desires when examples of them are paraded in front of us. Sometimes this works in predictable ways and sometimes not. A mysterious example I have often contemplated is whether trends in trimming public hair are influenced by the grooming fashions in porn. This is my own private theory, by the way, but I think we take in the (valuable but freely offered) information about how to compare the state of our own grooming habits with other people via an increased exposure to online porn. Assessing our social standing is an ongoing reflex in any social species, and the ‘am I presentable?’ question is never far from our minds. I am currently lacking the research funding for this, but I’m guessing that the proliferation of free online porn clips is directly correlated with sales of razors and waxing salons, and I’m quite certain this isn’t the intended commercial effect of the porn developers. Maybe they should consider redirecting some of their advertising revenue stream.
4. You start to want things instead of other experiences and states in your life. Advertising takes us from being single and wanting to be in a relationship to being single and wanting to get a facelift/treadmill/yoga mat/makeup etc. (to be more desireable to stop being single), a new wardrobe (to console ourselves for being single) and maybe a celebration ring to reward ourselves for excellent careers (to defy our sadness that we’re single). You’ll notice that our basic emotions are met through a purchase. Materialism is about making the intangible into the material.
5. You buy them. I haven’t linked to many possible examples in this article because I don’t want to send you all off into a spending spree. The more you see, the more you will buy. That part is simple. Sending you in the right direction of a particular product is the hard work of many media people (which is were most people with psychology degrees end up, by the way) but the general creation of appetite is supported simply by the diversity presented to you on a daily basis.
So where do I make my stand? This is about making a lifestyle change that is the heart of frugality. Frugality is about self-knowledge. You should want things that make sense to you and leave you fulfilled, not overstimulated and restless from trying to stuff your feelings through a commercialistic wash
1. Avoid advertising wherever possible. This is the main reason I avoid magazines, newspapers, commercial radio and tv. I also recommend avoiding driving (I notice lots of highway ads the the U.S. in particular) and if you take public transit, bring something to read instead of staring at the ads. I’m exposed to very little advertising right now. I ride my bike. I stream my music, I’ll wait until a tv show is available to rent and catch up on my movies once a year.
2. Avoid shopping. It’s not leisure. It’s one big ad. That trance you fall into is sustained by twilight lighting to confuse your sense of time, bland music to soothe you and a barrage of commodities to enable your purchasing. Use a list, stick to the list. Get out.
3. Turn off the tv. I’m amazed at how many people keep it on for company or use it to relax. If you need company, try meeting people. If you need to relax, take a bath or read a book. I will rent or download tv shows and movies instead of sitting through the ads. Believe me, it’s very obvious when I see an ad now because I see so few. That level of consciousness is actually desireable, by the way. Ads have the biggest effect when you don’t consciously process them. The most expensive ad placements on tv, for example, are for the 15 to 30 seconds right after the content before your brain has switched gears to realize an ad is now playing.
4. Don’t clip coupons. Don’t spend days and weeks comparing prices on small items. The money you might save in buying things is not worth the price of deeply engaging in the marketplace.
5. Volunteer in your community. We place our social standing relative to the people around us. Karl Marx once said “A house may be large or small; as long as the neighboring houses are likewise small, it satisfies all social requirement for a residence. But let there arise next to the little house a palace, and the little house shrinks to a hut.” This is true of us as humans, and not because we’re capitalists. We often work and socialize in environments where we compete for social standing. In fact, the most sensible definition of poverty is the inability to participate in society (which is why lacking a phone in the western world may qualify you as poor, but lacking plumbing in some countries doesn’t bar you from the middle classes).
Volunteering with people who offer up greater socio-economic variety helps to subtly open up those standards and give us more emotional room to be different. It also serves as a reality-check that the world is bigger than your own private fishbowl.
6. Procrastinate. Especially as a techie, I save a lot of money buying things that have slid off the bleeding-edge and have settled into the lower stratosphere of pricing. I try to buy things that are newish and not obsolete, but the biggest savings is from just putting it off until you really can’t ignore it anymore. Half of your ‘needs’ disappear on their own and the remaining ones will actually be more useful to me.
If you have a ninja moves of your own to resist advertising, I’d love to hear them. I aspire to Socrates’ description of the marketplace “how many are the things I can do without.”

1 comment:

keninbenton said...

Very Good Read. And Congrds' on your mile stone...