Don’t worry, I’m not going to start putting up clips of me singing. Neither my lungs nor my ability to hold a tune permit me to do that in public…
Chapter three of Consumer Detox asks the question ‘Am I rich?’ tying the answer to the question of ‘Am I Satisfied?’
So: am I rich?
In UK terms – yes and no. I can’t remember what the average annual income is, but I suspect I come close to hitting it. I can afford to live a pretty decent life in London, and if I save I can afford to travel outside Europe once a year. That said – I have to be careful with my money to make sure I can afford to pay all the bills I have and have a little bit of a social life. I’m fortunate enough to be able to make the choice to do that, though – I could also make a choice to live on less. That said, I go to somewhere like Canary Wharf and the price of a drink makes me feel like I’m bleeding from my eyeballs and I weep inside every time I buy a travel card. In UK terms, I’m averagely well off (and yes, I am fortunate to be so) – but I’m not rich.
In global terms – I am horrendously well off. It’s estimated that 1.4 billion people live on around £1 a day. I try cover live on £40 a week, and get to do things like go swimming and have coffee with friends with that.
You know what – I mostly veer on the understanding that I am rich. Even if compared to some people in the UK I’m not, that average figure that I’m just about hitting is made up of a really large number of people either around about it or below it, balanced out by a not particularly large number making a frankly obscene amount of money.
However. At times, that understanding doesn’t really get much further than my head knowing that I really am much better off than a lot of people in my own country, let alone the majority of people across the globe. Which brings us to the other question. ‘Am I satisfied?’
To which the answer is no, most of the time. I always want more, I always feel like I *need* more. This isn’t a simple matter of me thinking it would be quite nice if I got paid a bit more, or had a bit more in the bank account to fall back on; this is I need more money so that I can have more things disatisfaction. And honestly, looking back at some of the things I already own – this is a little bit silly. It’s ok to want nice things, and to save up for them and buy them – and sometimes some of those things are really useful as well as being nice so yeah, make an investment on the credit card if you know you’re going to have the money coming in or are willing to make a bit of a saving elsewhere to cover it. But let’s not confuse that with proper need.
To take an example – right now I want an iPad. The more time I spend around them I think that one would be lighter, faster and more portable than my netbook; it would be really good for meetings and making notes; and it would be a lot of fun. But I’m also (most of the time) aware that it’s not a necessity, and that I’m going to have to put some money aside for the next few months and ask a friend to pick one up state-side to be able to afford it. That’s reasonable wanting. But I also want a MacBook Pro, and an Air, and a… and a… basically the whole Apple store, y’know. Everything is so, so shiny, and works and would look really good – I totally want to be one of those people in the little indie coffee shop in Soho or Shoreditch with my Mac.
And this is possible the – single – most – irrational desire of my heart right now. Because, honestly, I’m not that crazy about Macs in practice. Everything’s zoomy and over-excitable, I’d have to learn a whole new system and buy a whole lot of new software – and that’s after the machine itself has cost twice the amount of a windows machine. I even, whisper it, like Windows. I like Windows 7. I can make it do pretty much what I want it to, and when I can’t I can google it. I like that you can replace it when things go wrong without having to go find a ‘Genius Bar’ (where, incidentally, they dropped the battery out of my iPhone and bust it). I like Linux too, and its principles suit me way more than Apple’s ‘No it’s OURS and we’re not letting you mess with it’ approach to things. I like being able to add more RAM to make things go faster. If I wasn’t so used to writing with a Word-Endnote combo and could make Adobe Lightroom work on ubuntu, I would seriously consider going linux. If I could just get the darn wireless drivers on my netbook to work update properly I would completely ubuntu it, as it would make it so much faster. And all of this is even before we even get to the Mac ‘evangelists’ – the people who would nod and hear me on that and then say, ‘Yes, but Hannah, they’re so shiny and they’re Macs.’ I have at least three of those people in my life at the moment – all of them people I’d normally count as good influences, and yet on this they’ll play the tempter, and the love of all things Mac that extends beyond reason and need drives me completely up the wall.
I don’t need a Mac – any make. Rationally, I don’t even want a Mac. And yet, ohmigoshiwantamac. Clearly my head needs examining.
There are two points that follow this:
One is that it isn’t, as Consumer Detox points out, in business’ interests to make us unconfuse the want-need connection – our capitalist economies are built on this, they need us to need and buy in order to grow, and if they don’t grow, then – well, you see where we are at the moment, right? So it would be good, as a result of that, to question our economy and whether there’s not a better, healthier, saner, system that could allow us to live satisfied lives without trampling over half the rest of the global population. At some point I’m going to have to start thinking about answers to this kind of question – and whether I want to get on board with other people’s possible answers (since I am truly not an economic whizz-kid – my economy would run on magic beans and gifts and services).
The second point is this:
Not all disatisfaction is necessarily bad – not even the kind of disatisfaction that leads to consuming or spending more money. For example – I could be disatisfied with the conditions that lie behind certain cheap clothing stores’ wares (and with the quality of the clothes) and this could lead me to choose to buy better quality, more ethically produced clothing – and to start to demand this of brands that I like and have chosen to identify with.
Being disatisfied with the way we do bits of our life can lead us to overspend or make bad choices in pursuit of things that we don’t really want or need, but it can also drive us to do those bits of our lives better: to find jobs that better suit our skills and passions, and to take risks in pursuit of goals; to demand better of our bankers and our newspapers (yes, I have been following the Leveson Inquiry), our police forces (yes, I have been following… and seriously loaning a horse… BAFFLED) and our governments. It can also drive us to think about the ideas and beliefs we are building our lives on, to challenge ourselves about them – about whether they make sense or whether we’re really living up to them.