Saturday, August 25, 2007

The Blue Toyota is Dead, Long Live the Silver Hyundai.

So now after nearly six years of limited or no income, I am a consumer again.

What sort of things am I spending my disposable income on then?

Our material goods make claims on our time and attention, and if we are not careful the acquisition can grow to take the place of higher truth in our lives. Just as demoralizing, goods interfere with our enjoyment of basic pleasures, keeping our attention so transient with the demands of upkeep that we have neither the time nor depth to take delight in either the mundane or the recreational. Small joys pass by unnoticed; the pleasures that used to gratify grow gray because we lack the serenity to immerse ourselves in sensation.

The most influential thoughts on material goods I have come across were presented in a Wired magazine piece on the Amish, about eight years past. The thrust of the article is that certain Amish sects have a negotiated relationship with technology. In the words of the author, they are techno-selectives as opposed to technophobes. One of their primary criterion in this give-and-take is the effect on community. Telephones are forbidden within homes as phones encourage individuals to ignore those around them whenever a call is incoming. Thus phones are kept in outhouses and common field houses, coupled with answering machines to serve as a kind of rapid mail system. Cell phones have likewise been absorbed to serve as a mobile mail system, checked only when alone or when away from the community. Through these restrictions a new technology is used to link people across distances rather than separating those who share the same space.

Our relationships with material should be that deliberate, or at least so I believe. They should facilitate the good in life, and one must take time occasionally to think about the consequences of possession. In my case that means continuing to keep my purchases to a minimum; to focus on those things that bring a sense of depth in the flow and haste of modernity, and which do not cause me to ignore those around me.

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