This is a reflection on ‘Why We Need Things’ by author Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, on ‘Objects and the Organization of Experience’. The author starts with how the nomads did not like carrying many things, nor accepted objects as gifts because that meant more luggage to carry around. And then gradually, man became a ‘hoarder’, a collector of things, artifacts and have literally, ‘storage’ rooms. I want to throw the question – are we going back to nomadic days? Has Minimalism become our way of ‘less is more’ analogous to the nomadic traditions? Take a look at our phones, our backpacks, the TV, the spacing out in our living rooms. Things are made for just they what should be, packed as minimally as possible. Or maybe that’s just one way of looking at it. The author does mention the Brahmin, in a similar context, and being an Indian myself, and seeing religious Brahmins live, I do see that connection.
Today, capitalism and consumerism are at the forefront of how we drive our economies. That’s not a problem I’m trying to point out. The problem is that, because of such an economy, the human thought has developed into one of – ‘Hey! Here’s a problem. How do I fix this or get rid of this? I know! Let me check on Amazon or in my neighborhood store if they have something for this, and that should fix it!’ Yes, there’s a product for everything, if you want it to be – and oh! Do we want that or what! Even if such thoughts never occurred to us, the media makes sure they do, and that we REALLY need ‘these products’ more than how much we can help ourselves without them.
Law of Convservation of Energy (or Matter): It can neither be created, nor destroyed, but only transformed from one form to another.
…objects compete with humans for scarce resources in the same ecosystem.
We can see that object or tools that humans produce does not arise out of merely, a need. There are many factors which cause this – other than need, it also a want, desire, media, or advertisements, marketing, profits, artificial economy, artificial needs, and so on. I would like to define this further. While I agree with the author when he says that there is also a proportional psychological need or connection with the object – I feel that objects that arise out of the factor or anything other than need are ONLY influenced by psychological strings. Objects that arise from ‘true need’ may also be psychological, because we may think, that something really needed.
Let’s take a look at the iPhone. The smartphone that has taken the world by storm. What does the iPhone have or do that other phones cannot. Do people buy it because they consider it to be the most beautiful phone? It definitely costs more than another competitor in its segment – so is that a reason in itself to buy it? Most expensive means most luxurious? A style statement, a symbol of status? Something like The Chivas Regal Effect. Why are terms like ‘fan-frenzy’, ‘apple fanboy’ associated with the iPhone or Apple products? Does Apple really make, build, design all their products to customer needs or do they generate customer wants? Let’s take a look at this Jimmy Kimel Show video about the iPhone X launch, and note his first sentence: “At this point, people buy whatever new iPhone come up.”
The author speaks of objects in three ways – power, continuity of self and relationships. I do not completely agree with the author when he says that we use ‘objects for identity’ when “our sense of self is vague or insecure”. It need not be true all the time. In fact, I feel that it’s true only some of the times, and mostly we just want to underline or bring out that one quality to display to others, and that’s why we may adorn ourselves with specific objects that represent that quality. An object for identity need not be a substitute for what we feel is lacking within, but an enhancer, or just a symbol, a conversation starter for that quality, for that memory. It doesn’t have to undermine one’s self.
To reflect on objects as continuity of self and on relationships, I would like to conclude with this: Rachel and Ross from the hit TV series FRIENDS – where Rachel out of sadness and anger brings out the silly objects that she saved as her fond memories and love for Ross and as symbols of their relationships.