Are Digital Possessions Turning Us Into Monks?

Buying in the moment doesn't mean living in the moment

| December 14, 2006

Consider, for a moment, that Americans have attained what only the most disciplined practitioners of Buddhism achieve after a lifetime of spiritual devotion: freedom from material possessions and detachment from desire.

Now back to reality. Consumerism rather than spiritual transcendence defines our buying habits, but what we're consuming (and desiring) is changing in ways that suggest we place less value on material goods than we do on immaterial experiences.

Writing for Maisonneuve, Daisy Goldstein argues that increasingly disposable fashion -- trendy, affordable, ephemeral attire - and online shopping are primary agents changing the way our culture thinks about possessions. We no longer expect goods to last -- and since the internet makes them so accessible, they don't need to.

This 21st century consumer has been dubbed the transumer. The term, according to a piece from that Goldstein cites, was coined by Fitch, a consumer experience design company, to describe the consumer in transit at airports. Between flights, travelers are sought-after consumers, loaded as they often are with savings for their travels. Looking for temporary, portable distraction along the way to their next destinations, travelers will spend without qualms on immediate entertainment and souvenirs -- no matter if the souvenir is one of hundreds just like it. After all, it isn't about the originality of the object per se, but about the experience it is a part of.

Digital media is uniquely positioned to sate this desire for experience over tangibility. In 'How the Consumer Thought Process in Purchasing Cultural Goods Is Changing,'Tikkun's Charlie Bertsh recounts his experience opting to buy a real CD instead of downloading a favorite artist's new album. He muses: 'Maybe we've entered the era of low-fidelity, where what matters is not how good our copies are, but what we can do with them. Portability and a freedom from time constraints may be more important to people now than either quality or authenticity.' He suggests that while we no longer need to possess tangible objects, we're still consumers -- only now we lust after the latest experience rather than the latest thing. And as we scour the internet for cheap flights and rare albums, we aren't so much transcending consumerism as we are reinventing it.

Go there >> Transumers 'R Us