Are We What We Buy?

I was driving home the other day and a thought returned to me. It’s not a new thought, but reoccurred after a conversation that involved designer brands. I was struck again by the notion; it seems we are what we buy. It helps define our identities.

Our society seeks to define us as consumers. It’s a label I have deep distaste for and any shop that described me in those terms would risk losing my business. The term is “customer”, not “consumer”. It encourage us to consume, we’re awash in a sea of slogans and advertising; all trying to part us from our cash. The adverts describe a world the seems to my eyes like an incorporeal shadowland, one that can’t exist outside the billboards. To me, the problem seems to start when we agree and begin to incorporate these shallow “brands” into our sense of identity. Who I am is defined by what car I drive, what shirts I wear, what computer I use.  A certain large fruit flavoured computer manufacturer has a manual for their sales employees, this describes how to lead the customer to a purchase; while letting the customer think it’s all their own idea and that they’re being highly individual. All the while, the corporation is laughing all the way to the bank.

People queue around the block for the latest releases, but why? What is there in that shop that’s honestly worth all that grief? I’ve seen gamers queueing to get the latest consoles, then news items about them getting robbed on their way home. When we move the focus to online forums people passionately defend their chosen brand. I’m old enough to remember the 8-bit computers and the school yard arguments and cliques that built around them. Now we have the same fanboyism around mobile platforms and operating systems.  You can’t find lasting happiness or satisfaction in consumerism, or slavish fanboy tribalism. I believe that the best approach is a minimalist detachment, practise a little wuwei – take only what you must, let the rest pass you by; flow onwards like water.

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