Thursday, May 21, 2009

Inconspicuous nonconsumption

I own five digital cameras and three computers and an assortment of MP3 players. All became obsolete about 15 minutes after unpacking, displaced by newer models with more features. I've often wondered what I was thinking when I acquired all this crap, and now Robert Tierney, writing in the New York Times, offers an answer: It's my primal need to impress strangers.

Thanks for the tip, Bob. I still wouldn't be complaining if it worked -- there are worse things in life than the fleeting admiration of passersby. But Tierney points out that sending messages with material goods is futile. If I thought my 8-gig iPod Touch might garner adoring glances from the chicks at the gym, I thought wrong. And not because they all have 32-gig iPhones. Turns out it has more to do with social invisibity. And that derives from my relatively flat scores in the "Big Five" personality traits: openness, conscientiousness, agreeableness, stability and extraversion.

Hey, stability! One out of five ain't bad. But to raise my profile in the other four areas, I'm afraid it might take more than the latest iToy. Perhaps more than a BMW. Or a sailboat, or a place in the Hamptons. In fact, I've begun to suspect that acquisition of property is not 100 percent reliable as a path to self-transformation.

It's sad in a way, this weird idea that happiness can't be bought. But if Americans are beginning to question the benefits of rampant consumerism, at least the timing works for me. The lack of a steady paycheck curbs the means of shopping anyway, if not the urge. I still pore over the Best Buy circulars every Sunday, but I never buy anything. My car's eight years old and running a little rough. The last pair of decent sunglasses I acquired were a set of Ray-Bans I found during a walk in the park. A new camera? Forget about it.

Strangely, I don't feel much different than when I was impulse-buying like the Real Housewives of New Jersey. Life proceeds as before. Shopping doesn't make you happy, true, but here's my little epiphany: Not shopping doesn't make you sad.


Anonymous said...

Combine your stability with image stabilization on your Oly's and you gotta have a rock solid image.


Ryan said...

Interesting. The best pair of sunglasses I ever had were a pair or Panama Jack's that I found in the tide in the dusk of Outer Banks, NC.

They must have liked being alone because I eventually misplaced them as their former owner had.