by Kirk Douglas
It’s that time of year again. You know, the one where Target has moved its remaining Halloween decor to the discount section in the front to make way for holiday cheer. That unmistakable time when the mall has already started playing holiday music and Thanksgiving has yet to arrive.
Retailers remind us it’s the season of giving earlier than ever. The Black Friday sales fliers have already began to leak. The “deals of the day” emails are beginning there descent into millions of inboxes and the incentivized phone plans are well into ad form.
Regardless of what you and yours celebrate, it’s become increasingly clear we have a culture that loves celebrating the season of giving, and giving just as much to ourselves as others. Our modern habits as consumers have reached heights arguably far beyond where they were in decades past.
Marketing has never been more pervasive than it is right now, taking over our mobile phone screens — the screens we spend so much of our time on. I read oodles of technology news and thought pieces, case studies and commentaries around our current social norms and how our internet-connected lives have affected them. The irony of dismissing ads to read such articles only solidifies our current state of consumerism. Consumable content and marketing are two peas in a pod.
That, and we can’t seem to escape the ‘bigger, faster, better’ marketing push behind new products that have come to market just in time to complete the picturesque moment many of us are sure to capture and share in our living rooms on Christmas morning.
We’ve become so influenced by marketing in our tech-driven lives that it simply isn’t good enough for us (myself included) to receive a thoughtful or well-planned meaningful gift anymore. We want iPads, Pebble watches and Xbox’s. We want GoPro’s, Samsung 4K televisions and Amazon gift cards.
We’ve gotten more specific about what we want as consumers and we seem to always be wanting more. I have to wonder if its the constant stream of marketing and increased portfolios of products that promise to simplify our lives, while often strangely leaving us feeling like things are more complicated in the end. I don’t know for a fact others feel this way, but at times I certainly do. Its harder than ever to parse from our desires our wants and needs. Its abysmal, the thought of drawing that line when there are so many goodies to be had.
In both my self-assessment and observation of others it looks a lot like we sometimes want for the sake of wanting. We love to have for the sake of having. For the status that comes with being owners. For how it makes us look amongst our peers or how it might give us some status among others in a crowd. When it comes to tech, it’s the new “keeping up with the Joneses”, and it isn’t easy, cheap, or necessary.
Then again, I can’t blame targeted ads and inescapable marketing for everything. As a consumer of tech products I have a say in every purchase decision. I now call into question a bit of my own purchases and the desires that feed my small-scale tech hoarding. I’ve realized that some of the shopping habits I have formed are actually working against me, not in my favor and I need to do better at acknowledging this truth when I find myself shopping.
I am by no means a curmudgeon when it comes to spending on hobbies or tech, and the many unused or lightly used tech products around my apartment are proof. Perhaps I should be a bit more discerning and better assess my decision making going forward. With this in mind, I’ve really began to ask myself to consider the differences between my tech wants and tech needs.
I did a piece on subscription services just a couple of weeks ago and upon doing so, I committed to writing down my monthly subscription expenses. It really wasn’t until I did this that I realized what I could ‘afford’ to cut out. It turns out, I don’t really need Microsoft Office. I have had a subscription and paid for it months now because of OneDrive and all that great storage space it includes. I realized my purchase decision was primarily around this storage – the same online storage space that I barely use. Its not that Office isn’t any good, in my opinion it is actually the best version i’ve ever had. Its just that the idea that I “need” it just isn’t true. I’m not required to use it for business, nor am I a student; I’m not even using the online storage space that informed my decision to subscribe in the first place, so what is the use? In my case, there isn’t any, though I might have just kept paying for it without acknowledging so.
So I start to build out this idea of taking a purchase inventory and I quickly realize that my subscription to Office is a lot like the Blue Microphone I bought for podcasting. The one I had to have but now realize I haven’t used since the first time. It’s a wonderful microphone — but I don’t even have a podcast. And then there’s all those extra camera cards I don’t use because I just keep wiping and reusing the same ones I started with. But when I bought my digital SLR I thought I couldn’t possibly have a nice camera without all of the fixings. I wouldn’t be serious about photography if I didn’t show it by amassing SD cards every time Best Buy had a sale on them.
It all seems quite foolish to reflect on. There’s so many tech toys I’d love to have given the finances to obtain them. I could justifying the purchase of almost anything to amass a collection and i’m now realizing its borderline sad to be so focused on said objects.
As we inch closer to the holidays, I’ve put myself in a place where I’d like this season to be a more conscious one. I’ve held off on a lot of things I’d like to have because I’ve began to acknowledge the ever-present but often ignored difference between wants and needs. Frankly, I don’t think there is much more I need this holiday season than to spend my holidays consuming great food and drink among the laughter and camaraderie of friends and loved ones. This year, the tech I want and don’t need will just have to wait. After all, there is always tax time.