Wednesday, January 5, 2011

More on wanting

As I read through the insightful comments on my post I don't want to want, I am struck by two things.

One is that it's not enough to consciously limit our exposure to advertising and stores and products and learning contentment with what we already have. It seems that the desire for new is truly innate. I mean, the experience that made me think of all this was a time when I was avoiding temptation. I was walking home from work, watching the ground in front of me, hurrying to catch my train so I could get home. I was just out in the world because I had to get through it to get where I was going, not open to a sales pitch or anything. In fact, if the merchant had spoken to me, it probably wouldn't have penetrated my consciousness. It was the shopper's reaction that first pricked my ears and then my interest, all before I had time to have the conscious thought of whether I need or even want whatever it is she's looking at. Perhaps it's a strategy humans developed to make themselves more competitive -- the desire to want might make you more ambitious, more likely to have more kids or something. I don't know.

Two is that it's not at all logical. We want more, new, better, different of things we already have, like SS4BC's television anecdote and Michelle's "preference for variety". This is something that's been plaguing me -- coming up in June is the end of my current cell phone contract, and I'm torn about replacing my phone. I actually don't want something nicer or fancier than my iPhone (I am not impressed with the iPhone and certainly won't be upgrading it) but I want something DIFFERENT. Maybe simpler, maybe back to a regular flip phone instead of a smartphone. Still, it'd mean buying a new phone and signing a new contract, two things I don't want to do. But I'm already thinking about it, because I'm not happy with the phone I have and there are so many options. I can't rationalize the fact to myself that this phone could last me many more years before it "needs" to be replaced.

How do you turn off an instinct? I find that most instincts that I have are essentially good -- my inclination is usually towards healthier foods, towards more and better relationships, towards enough sleep but also towards rewarding work (in whatever aspect: housework, job work, busy work -- I like to be productive). But this instinct for wanting -- I don't know what to do about that. It goes beyond being content, because logically, I am content. I want for nothing. I have shelter, clothing, food, entertainment, excess. I have no basic human need I cannot meet on demand, and it could be said that I'm so far up the hierarchy of needs that I've turned self-actualization into narcissism by blogging about it. It goes beyond avoiding advertising -- I don't have cable and watch network television for author appearances, I don't window shop in person or online, I re-route promotional emails right to the trash, I install ad-blocking software on my browser, continue to declutter in order to refrain from bringing home more junk I don't need, wait on larger purchases to make sure I really want something. I got a gift card for Christmas that I have no plans for because I don't actively want anything. And yet the moment someone else showed active interest in a piece of junk, my lizard-brain was all over it. "Ooh, how much is it? Can I have one too?"

I recently read Super Sad True Love Story, which illustrates in a frightening way the extent to which this wanting could (and likely might) take us. In the not so distant future, we're indebted to China, our government asks invasive questions of its citizens via beaver, and we go shopping on our phones even while sitting at a table with our friends. We live-blog and live-stream everything in acronyms and forget how to connect with other humans or even ourselves. In my moment of noticing things for sale on the street, I felt exactly like a character in the book, bewilderedly shopping without even knowing I had an option not to.


  1. Interesting post! Can I ask you, did you enjoy the book? I borrowed it from the library and have been wondering whether to read it.

  2. It's practice.

    To stop wanting something, is to find a substitute for other things you want, namely experiences.

    I still want stuff, that's true. I have everything AND MUCH MORE than I need, but I still have a couple of: Gee that would be nice to have.

  3. I did love Super Sad True Love Story, and I recommend it. He paints a pretty dismaying picture of the not-too-distant future, but he makes some really excellent points about our capacity to connect with each other and whether technology is helping that or impeding it. It's a fascinating character study as well.

  4. This is all great food for thought. I agree that it's practice and discipline. I used to be much more materialistic, but over time I've become more cognizant of how little 'stuff' is necessary to live and how so much of what I have gets in the way of living. That awareness has made me want for less, but the want hasn't gone away completely and it probably never will. It's just something I have to think about and work at for the rest of my life.


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