Thursday, August 19, 2010

Half-Ton Everything

I was picking Nolie up at school today, and all the kids were crowding the street-side fence enjoying a spectacle something like this:

Minus the big guy without the shirt, anyway.

Basically, someone across the street from Nolie's school parked their truck too far off the street and high-centered their ginormous Ford F-250 in the ditch.  It was a nice truck, maybe even new.  Luckily for dude with truck, another dude with truck had his towing cable with him, and was able to pull the first dude with truck out of the ditch.  There were some very strong male pheromones emanating from this scene, with first dude with truck looking rather sheepish while second dude with truck looked like he had just descended from Mount Olympus.

I sympathized with first dude with truck.  You spend a lot of money on your new truck, thinking that bad boy can do just about anything--haul shit-tons of manure; plow streets; move furniture; pick up lumber from Home Depot; off-road.  And then you high-center the darned thing right in front of your kid's school, with about a thousand preschoolers gawking, tongues out.  You find that you need yet another truck to help your truck go about being a truck.  It must have been quite disorienting.

I'm feeling the same feelings, not about my truck, but about all my new gadgets.  Until this spring, all I had was a wimpy little Dell the size of a matchbook and a disabled Blackberry that only functioned (gasp) as a phone.

Now, through some weird turn of history, I have this phat new macbook pro; a Droid; an iPod; and a Kindle.  I enjoy and use them all, believe me.  The mac has totally changed how I work, for the better.  My droid keeps things easy and convenient because it syncs to my Mac so I can be more deliberate about what I commit too and when, and even though it doesn't work very well as a phone, it has brought me into the world of facebook and texting, which allows me to connect much better with friends.  The iPod has helped me hang in there with the running, which makes me feel better about myself and life in general.  And the Kindle is, well, just awesome.  I've been doing much more reading than I did before because that thing goes everywhere with me and I can try new books with one click.

Don't get me wrong:  I'm clear that absolutely none of this stuff is necessary.  I'm clear that it's really bougie and potentially unethical to have all this stuff.  Bad for the environment.  Bad for the Chinese people who may eventually recycle these electronics and be poisoned by their innards.  Potentially bad for me and my soul, who fights hard against consumerism and loses so much of the time, and who fights hard to be present and loses so much of the time.  I'm familiar with the library (go every week), with the concept of making-do, with the perils of lifestyle inflation.  But I still have the gadgets.

The worst part, and what makes me feel like dude with truck, is that, for every gadget or new thingy I obtain, I must in turn obtain an entire infrastructure to maintain said thingy.  Getting the droid necessitated getting media stations and extra chargers and special covers and an expensive data plan.  Getting the mac meant buying new software to sync the Droid, a warranty, a new external hard drive, mouse, and keyboard, and a new laptop protector.

Even getting new bikes last summer (which we needed, really, because our old bikes were built for people the size of leprechauns and were falling apart) has necessitated new infrastructure:  new bike lock, tuning, water bottle holder, degreaser.  And we can't use our bike trailer because of the disc brakes, so we haven't ridden them as much as we might because the kids can't come.  Either we wait for the kids to get older or we get a new bike trailer.

It's something, isn't it?  We do our best to get around some of this by buying things used off of Craig's List, or fashioning old items to fit the new.  But with electronic gadgetry in particular, this is tough.

I'm thinking about a colleague who does development work in Honduras, and who says this is a particularly Northern malaise.  In Honduras, if your TV breaks, you call the TV guys, they show up with their tools and bench, fix your component, and you go back to watching your TV.  Here, you throw away or donate your old TV and just buy a new one.  We don't know how to fix our TVs, even if we want to.

I'm thinking about a recent discussion at Get Rich Slowly, too, where they talk about shifting from spending your money on things to spending your money on experiences, because things always lose their shine, require more spending, break, or suck the life energy out of you just maintaining and storing them, whereas experiences stick with you because they literally change who you are.  If you're going to spend, spend on a class or trip and not a TV.

I'm thinking about No Impact Man and Dandelion Bones and going on consumption diets and wondering if it's time for one of those, and if I can really shift my behaviors on this again.  How can I move away from being dude with truck?  How can I avoid getting high-centered on consumption?

What do you think?  I sound more agitated about this than I am.  Compared to twenty-year-old me, I'm a virtual ascetic.  But I still could be better.  I could focus a lot less on stuff.  How about you?  What tricks do you use to focus not on things but on people and experiences?

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