The New Stuff Buzz. Retail Therapy.

Much to the benefit of the planet at large, the iPhone X was released a few days ago, and the predictable queues of people formed outside stores to get their hands on the latest and greatest offering from our tech savvy friends at Apple.  According to the papers, thousands of people waited all night to secure themselves a share of the limited supply.

For those of you who are not aware, Apple has released another iteration of its popular smartphone.  The iPhone x (which is a ten, not an ‘ex’), follows the fairly recently released iPhone 8.  There was no 9.  The x is so much more advanced than the 8, Apple assures us, that they decided to skip a generation.  The new metal and glass rectangle can do a handful of things that the old one couldn’t (facial recognition, for one) and accordingly, is arse meltingly expensive.  In the UK, a brand new, shiny iPhone x will set you back a grand.  That’s right, a thousand British pounds for what is unquestionably and undeniably a phone.

Does it do more than my two hundred pound phone?  Well yes, I suppose it does.

Does it do things more quickly and smoothly with nicer animations?  I imagine that it does.  I certainly hope so for that price.

Does it in any way justify the extra eight hundred ponds that it costs over and above the price of mine?  I really don’t see how, and purely in terms of its function, I think that most people, if they stopped to think about it, would struggle too.

So what is it that causes thousands of people to gravitate, grand in hand, to this holy grail of mobile communication?

Well, in this case it’s some remarkably good marketing, but that marketing only serves to enhance the effect of a drug that I like to think of as the ‘New Thing Buzz’.

We all know that feeling of buying something that we have wanted for a while, getting it home, and either playing with it, setting it up or putting it on.  It’s an undeniable buzz.  It feels good.  It feels like a reward for all your efforts.  That’s why we call it Retail Therapy. If it’s a gadget

of some sort you can’t stop fiddling with it.  If it is, as it generally is in my case, a guitar, then I will play it, adjust it, clean it, fondle it (really), admire it, and just hold it.  But it isn’t the fact that it’s a guitar that makes me behave like that, it’s the fact that it’s a NEW guitar.  The same goes for phones, computers, clothes, jewellery, watches, glasses, cars, furniture, shoes, handbags, and just about everything else.  The excitement is about the NEW thing, not the thing itself.  The thing itself is probably very much like the thing that it is set to replace, or join in a collection of other things.

The problem is that by its very nature, the New Thing Buzz can’t last.  Retail Therapy is not a long term solution.  Things only stay ‘new things’ for so long, and then they become ‘things’.  The new phone that you have just dropped a grand on will become a phone.  The predictive text will still annoy you, you will most likely drop it and crack the screen, you will still get calls and messages from the same bunch of idiots that called you on your old one, and the battery will still run out at the most inconvenient moment.  In short, your life, even your ‘phone life’ will have barely changed at all.  The experience is ultimately disappointing.  You need to feel better about yourself.

And what makes you feel better?

New things.

It’s time to go shopping!

This is is a fine way to live if it makes you happy.  It is, after all, only stuff.  But for the vast majority of people, retail therapy doesn’t really do the job.

I have known many people over the years who have been as miserable as sin, in debt up to their eyeballs, and had a house full of very shiny and expensive things that brought them no joy beyond the first few days of ownership.  Their conversations have consisted of little more than a list of things that they have bought or are planning to buy, how much money they have spent, and how they are dreading their credit card bill because they have gone a bit CRAZY this month.  All of this with an undertone of showing off, looking down on others, and a self importance.  The fact that they were also giving off a distinct reek to dissatisfaction and insecurity was generally lost on them.

They have been some of the most shallow and tedious people that I have ever spent time with, and I am hugely grateful that I don’t have to tolerate them anymore.

I remember a work colleague who loved designer clothing, becoming pregnant.  She told me that she was going to have a ‘designer’ baby, and how much this was going to cost.  She ran us through baby catalogues in which she had circled every other item with ball point pen.  She would tot up the prices of this week’s intended purchases and puff in mock despair as she showed us all the eye watering total.   It caused some upset when I suggested that she get a doll instead, and more so when I asked if she was going to issue forth some sort of vaginal receipt after the child had been born.

Her attempts to show us how well the child would be cared for (and my comments, in all fairness), were meaningless shit.  They meant nothing, and served no purpose other than to suggest that the child would grow into a right horrible little twat.  This was years ago.  Apparently the child grew up as predicted.

There is no broader answer to this.  People will continue to spend on what they like to refer to as retail therapy.  Companies will draw them in, like moths to a flame, with their clever marketing and pictures of shiny things.  Novelties will wear off, debts will rise, and the cycle will continue.

On a personal level though, we can opt out.  It’s easy to do.

Next time you decide to spend a week’s wage on replacing something that you already have, or adding to a collection of things that you don’t really need, just think of yourself holding/wearing/sitting on that item a month or two down the line.  It’s a little bit scratched and worn, and you are familiar with it.  Does it still make you happy?  Does it make you as happy to own it as it did to anticipating buying it?  If the answer is yes, then go for it.  If the answer is no, put the card back in your wallet and walk away.

Walk back to your old belongings and use them for what they were intended.  Use your old phone to call a friend; value the conversation.  Use your old guitar to play a tune; enjoy the music.  Put on your old shoes; go for a walk.  Enjoy the experience.  Spend some time making connections with people rather than objects.

***

If you have the technology/ability to read this article, you are already one of the most fortunate people on the planet.  Just by reading this, you are showing that you are in a place with electricity and an internet connection.  You have access to a device that even at the cheapest end of the market, cost enough money to keep a Kenyan refugee alive for several months.  You have food in your belly and you are in reasonable health.  (If I am wrong on those last two, then what are you doing reading this shit?  Get something to eat or go see a doctor).

Not only that, the very fact that you can read at all means that you are from a culture in which education is valued and available, or you were fortunate enough to have someone who would put you through some sort of school system.

You are lucky.  So am I.  Let’s appreciate what we have.

Grantham Montgomery

Minister of Stuff

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