Saturday, April 19, 2008

It's Not Consumption That We Need, It's Stimuli

I'm actively following Gaurav Mishra's "The Marketer Who Went Off Consumption," in part because I find the idea of a person volunteering to live the super-frugal lifestyle (no cinema, no restaurants, no new clothing, no groceries beyond the basics, etc.) fascinating -- and, admittedly, amusing. ("Look! Gaurav wants to live like I do! Why????")

But today I was inspired to write (another) response to Gaurav's blog.

It all started with... a zippy bag full of carrots.

The last two or three times I was at the grocery store, I grabbed a big pile of carrots. Super-cheap, easy to peel, break them in half and throw them into individual zippy bags. I spent many a rehearsal with a bag of carrots by my side, crunching them inbetween talking to the actors.

A few days ago, I bit into a carrot to discover that it tasted... kinda like barf. Or, maybe, that eating it made me want to barf. Either way, it was repellent. It was one of the last ones in my current batch, so I figured it was probably past its prime and tossed it out; and the next time I went to the grocery store got a new pile of carrots for peeling and bagging.

Except all of these carrots tasted awful, too. My cast would ask me "why are you eating those carrots if they make you make those faces?" (Self-discipline, I suppose. Or a fear of wasting food.)

And then my peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches started tasting like cardboard. I had eaten the same sandwich nearly every day for six weeks, and suddenly I couldn't stomach it anymore. I would force them down, for food's sake, but...

Then, thankfully, the government threw me a little cash to use towards food, and I had all-new, different kinds of tastes.

So, Gaurav, riddle me this one: our desire for consumption comes from our desire for new stimuli, yes? Arguably I am not consuming any more food now than I was last week, but it is different food, and so I am satisfied.

Unfortunately items like clothing and cinemas are different from food, in that they do not eat themselves and there is no "excuse" to perpetually renew them. But I'll tell you this, also -- I used some of my book sale money to buy some new clothing (J. C. Penney's had a BOGO sale) and I am just pleased as anything to wear something that isn't faded and saggy. We can call it my desire to be "fashionable," but it's my desire for new stimuli as much as anything else.

So. Can we expose ourselves to new stimuli w/o consumption? We can certainly do it without buying anything (like your movie parties, or visiting a library, or Freecycle) but can we actually do it without consuming anything? Can we create new stimuli without leaving some kind of environmental footprint?

Or does the depression of perpetual sameness -- the literal gagging on the carrots -- force us to destroy/invent/stimulate/consume?

Clearly not a new argument; but would love to hear Gaurav's (and all of my readers') take on it.


Anonymous said...

Congrats of the new URL! The new blog looks blue-dy (sorry!) nice too. And it's good to be able to associate a face with the writing.

After a cursory first read of this post, I was going to make what, in my mind, were a couple of astute (read highfalutin!) observations on human nature, our drive to consume etc. etc., until, while rereading the whole thing, I came across this :

I had eaten the same sandwich nearly every day for six weeks....

Are you kidding me?! Six weeks? SIX FREAKIN' WEEKS of the same sandwich?

Kudos to you, Blue, for pulling this off, in spite of apparently not having much of a choice and not having resorted to robbing banks by now. I know I would have.

You ought to get some sort of an endorsement deal from the bread making company. Seriously!

And after such a protracted spell of self-abnegation (even forced), buying a few "fashionable" (in light of the sandwich feat, one can't help but think that this is your euphemism for "VERY sorely needed") clothes in no way requires any sort of justification or rationalization. You're only human!

Finally, I'm really very happy that you were able to get some respite in the form of food stamps.

I am so excited about eating a bowl of Kashi w/banana tomorrow morning.

I hope it tasted every bit as delicious as you'd imagined!! :-)

Blue said...

I read somewhere that great thinkers eat the same, simple foods every day.

So... count me in!

maya said...

Re. stimulus--i've noticed that for me it's not only stuff that i actively consume (food, clothes) beautiful things, books, music become necessities too. They don't have to cost much. I got a tiny fake topiary from the dollar store my first year in this country and my heart is still lifted by it's perfection every time i see it...

chhavi said...

Right on!
I think retail therapy and impulse purchases exemplify our need for new, shiny things in the biggest way. My 91 year old grandma says she gets tired of the same old wardrobe, the same tea-time snacks, every so often, and gets herself a present!

I know it totally uplifts my being, at least, to get new stuff - free, second-hand, gifted, purchased, whatever. We're all magpies at heart, I guess ;)

p.s. taken from the WSJ:

Vivek Khandelwal said...

hey blue....
i have following gaurav for a while and now its u ..
seems like the theory has started to take some shape ...
the stimuli concept seesm quite right .....
nwyas U really are

Blue said...

Chhavi and Vivek -- thanks!

So the real question is: why do we need new stimuli? Why do we need new shiny things?

Sure, I get tired of eating carrots in part, perhaps, because of my body's need for a varied diet.

Maybe I want to hear new music because my brain wants new experiences. Probably something to do with building or maintaining synapses. ^__^

But there's nothing, biochemically, that says I need a new outfit, right? Humans wore the same two or three pieces of clothing over and over for centuries. So why do I feel the "need" for clothes?