The Proliferation Of Things

Avertising; It’s always the same message. You need these objects to enhance your life, to have as good a time as possible in order to make the best of this experience we call life. 

Think about it, the car commercials, the rugged men on the boat in the beer commercial, even pharmaceutical advertisements. It’s always the same message. Buy this be and be happier! 

The experts behind the advertisements are clever and they are continually improving their methods of targeting all of our subtle insecurities and neuroses to compel us to hedonistically explode in instant gratification. 

We are living in an age where rabid mobs of people swarm into shopping centres on Black Friday to literally fight each other for new TVs. 

Thousands of people line up for days to buy the newest model of a popular cell phone. The consumption of these objects is the foundation of capitalism. 

Consider these statistics cited by professional organiser Regina Lark from a recent LA Times article: “The average US household has 300,000 things, from paper clips to ironing boards.” 

Thats an awful lot of things to keep track of and worry about. We have even objectified ourselves on social media. Humanity’s accretion of objects has reached its apex, but are we happier? 

Perhaps in the future the trend will move towards the other end of the spectrum in which we have one thing that does everything, like we started.

Archeologists have discovered that our primitive hominid ancestors first created objects three million years ago in the form of crude pounding tools and hand axes. It was another 1.5 million years before the next innovation came along in the form of symmetry. 

Imagine having one car or phone model for 1.5 million years. Innovation and novelty ramped up with the advent of chipping, flaking and micro-geometry to create razor sharp edges. Then around 40,000 years ago we developed our first symbolic objects which indicated language. 

However, it was not until the advent of agriculture and the domestication of animals approximately 12,000 years ago which allowed us to settle in one place, that we really started to accumulate objects. 

Before that, we had to be able to carry everything we owned long distances as we followed the animals we hunted with the changing seasons. Then we started to decorate objects leading to increased attributed value. 

We had a clay pot, then a bigger pot, a decorated pot, a pot with a handle, a spout and now we have the iPhone 6. Same trend. With objects came nouns to name them, then pronouns, then inevitable jealousy and conflict over possession. 

There was this thing, then it became this “spear thrower” or whatever, then it became my/ his/ her spearthrower. You get the idea.

A friend of mine recently bought an expensive car. It has subsequently become obvious to everyone except him that his life was now a little more complicated. Parking his car had become a big issue. It was no longer about convenience, his car must be safe at all costs. 

It couldn’t be left somewhere where there are even remote odds of it being scratched, bounced or stolen—even if that means a few blocks walk to his destination. It’s ironic that he is hardly ever on time anymore. 

Driving has even become stressful, requiring constant vigilance for even the tiniest bump and pothole, to screech to a halt and then gently creep over. Instead of making him happier as he thought it would, it has added incredible stress to his life.

Smart phones, our newest stone axes and spearthrowers, our personal companions that we take everywhere, have crossed the threshold of convenience and have become an obligation. 

There is always some message that demands immediate attention requiring you to withdraw from the present experience. Even when free time does present itself there is the compulsive desire to check the phone. 

I was recently watching members of a sports team playing cards, and between turns, they were all silently texting on their phones to someone who was not present in the room, denying them the full experience and enjoyment of the game. Half in, half out.

We have more things now, but we seem to have less time, mentally we have so much more to organise, worry about and keep track of. 

The accumulation of things has added a temporal density to our lives that deprives us of the enjoyment of living. The part of life we are actually living is getting smaller, the rest is just being filled with things. 

As Chuck Palahniuk said in his famous book Fight Club: “The things you own end up owning you.”