Friday, June 15, 2018

Let's talk about STUFFOCATION...

I'm currently reading STUFFOCATION by James Wallman and started reading it two hours ago. I've reached the part on how the throwaway culture was created and how we're being manipulated into behaving exactly the way they (the industrialists, the ad folks, etcetera) want us to behave through the creation of desire.

I'm a frugal creature and have always been due to my family background. Yet, I succumbed somewhat to some actions such as attaining and retaining my status miles with OneWorld, rented an expensive apartment in Singapore right in the smack of the city center. I didn't go into debt or anything like that to achieve that; I totally afforded them. I succeeded in my experiments to attain those (and more). The abovementioned didn't really do anything for me, but to be fair, they did boost my ego for a bit. They're nice but they're not what I am.

So I recalibrated. Just this month, I moved to a cosier, much smaller 400-square-foot apartment in my favorite neighborhood in Singapore (it's a secret where this 'hood is, so I will not tell you where but it's not in Woodlands - nothing wrong with Woodlands, don't get me wrong!). A few weeks ago, I also decided to stop retaining my Sapphire status with OneWorld. In short, I've stopped accumulating 'excess' (in the case of the status miles) and 'a nice address' (in the case of the 2-bedroom 600-square-foot apartment 5 minutes away from my office in the city center).  I've never been a fan of branded goods, cosmetics, bags, clothes - thank God for that - but I do need to reevaluate my need to buy books (new or used).

Speaking of books, I finally plucked STUFFOCATION from my personal library two years after buying it and I'm now at page 87. Pages 84 to 86 are the pages I want to share because the following paragraphs are so real and important. Here goes:

Calkins and his contemporaries soon came up with two revolutionary ideas. The first was that industry should shift its focus from producing ever better products to creating products that would only last a short time. They should turn goods that people USED, such as motor cards and safety razors, into goods people would USE UP, like toothpaste and biscuits. Instead of selling products that were made to last, they should sell ones that were made to break.

The second idea was, in many ways, more radical: it was to take the happy, thrifty people of America and turn them into dissatisfied, wasteful, conspicuous consumers. Instead of just manufacturing products out of raw materials, industry should manufacture consumers. How could they do that?

To begin with, as Calkins reasoned, these new consumers would have to have enough money to buy products. Industry could make this happen either by paying them enough in their wage packets, or by giving them the financial means to buy now. This, of course, is consumer credit.

Calkins's next idea was more exciting, and certainly more colourful. The inspiration for this came from the art he had brought the world of advertising. Just as advertising had evolved from those early, functional messages into works of art, so, he felt, products should do the same. This, it seemed to him, was the natural progress of any industry. At first, a person would be amazed that a new product even existed, and the industrialist would only need to make the product functional. Then, the consumer would want to see it beautified, through colour, style, design. This was the evolutionary stage, he believed, industry had come to. 'The appeal of efficiency alone is nearly ended,' he wrote in an article for The Atlantic Monthly in August 1927. 'Beauty is the next logical step.'

If you think about this idea for a moment, it is clear that it is the statement both of an aesthete and of a businessman. The beauty of this concept, if you will, is that what is beautiful can also be engineered, and manipulated according to a manufacturing cycle, to keep people buying. In other words, Calkins was taking the idea that underpinned the success of fashion business and transferring it to other industries. In this new vision, people would buy a new car, clock, carpet, or a new ANYTHING, as Calkins wrote, 'not because the old one is worn out, but because it is no longer modern. It does not satisfy their pride...because it is out of date, out of style, no longer the thing.'

And it worked. Re-tooled with these innovative ideas, America's industries started mass-producing products that were made to break, and engineering consumers who would use up what they had previously only used. Armed with these revolutionary ideas, Calkins and the captains of consciousness changed the habits and customs of ordinary Americans, and created a new throwaway culture.

I don't have a lot of things (well, maybe books), and I always wear the same clothes and shoes until they're no longer wearable (I'm not fashionable), and there has been no change to my iPhone for the longest time (unless the squat-toilet-accident incident happens again, which I'm now super careful about). I don't believe in ending the life of an object prematurely. I don't like to 'just replace it' and it doesn't make sense to keep upgrading a device or anything just because a newer, fancier model has emerged.

Okay, it's time for me to get back to the book because I want to continue reading the next section, The evolution of throwaway culture.