My life’s usual stuff is functional and throw away (recyclable). Use it, then lose it with no regrets. Stuff breaks, wears out, or becomes boring. Once gone, I’m getting better about disposing of the dead carcass so it can be truly forgotten.
Yet occasionally, I acquire an object that I somehow identify with, that seems to inspire me, to suit me particularly well, or has belonged to someone close to me. Then I want it to last, to accompany me on my life’s journey, and perhaps to be enjoyed further by those that I leave behind. Such unusual objects from my life form a small, motley cadre of fellow travelers.
I am a stuff kinda guy, and I enjoy quality stuff. What defines a quality object? I think it means I am attracted by its design, it fulfills my need better than any other of its type, it is obsolescence-resistant, I will still like it after years of use, my world will need to change fundamentally before I would see a need to replace it, it is simple enough that I understand how it works and can tinker with it, I can justify its cost.
I sometimes enjoy writing paeans to the best examples of my objects, my special stuff with which I identify. These objects are sometimes rare or specialized in use so that most others will have no exposure to them. Some may be things for which I have little actual use; consequently, they could hardly be said to define me. Others may relate to major life decisions and enjoy high utilization. But one characteristic they all share is that when I acquire them, I believe they are the last one of these I will ever need. They represent great satisfaction and a sense of closure.
My special objects discussed on this blog are a bicycle, car, guitar, and shotgun. Read about them under the Practicum menu item.
I have always admired and wondered about people for whom worldly possessions hold no meaning. I think I could get part way there to good effect, but all the way would be very hard. I can not imagine being me without having my special stuff along for the ride. I’ve always loved my stuff. As a child, I would pile my new stuff neatly under the yule tree. Seeing it all together made a bigger impression. Although I grew up in an environment of minimal wealth, I always received multiple presents under the tree, making that time of year very special to me.
There are two levels of stuff attachment, I think: the particular instance of object as cared for by me, and the ideal represented by the object. This ideal derives from the typical characteristics of my special stuff: simplicity, capability, beauty, and integrity, all deriving from design. They become my archetypes. And in the back of my mind, I hope these fellow travelers will get better with age (as I have), to become investments. But this has not been the case. They are worth as much or more than I paid for them, discounting any wear and tear, but they are not a path to riches. Others seem not to value the same things that I do. And this is good, in that I feel no pressure to part with my special stuff.
Why do I want to write about my special stuff? Some items I wish I could use more, but lack the motivation. Perhaps writing about them is a substitute for the pleasure of using them. Some facility with words provides satisfaction above and beyond that derived from object possession and use. Some objects are currently relics, where only my largesse stands between them and the trash heap of time. Writing about them may help forestall or ease a possible decision to part company.
Perhaps the answer is evident in the writing itself. I naturally attempt to drill down to capture all the discoverable information about design and manufacture, and to discuss why this particular thing differs from other things in its class. Curiosity and a quest for knowledge and organizing principles is involved. Once all that is important about an object is understood, my personality impels me to write it down, so that my efforts can be remembered by me. My writing is further my ego reaching out to share with others the things that I value. That I never write about things not in my possession further tells me that ego drives the words.
There may be clues to my personality in my choices and their underlying value judgements. Rather than try to coax revelations from the products themselves, I turn it around and show how my value system is energized by certain product characteristics. My special stuff also reveals anecdotal evidence of my life path. Thus writing about such stuff provides me a framework in which to relate clues about my own experiences and values, anecdotes that would not be expressed were it not for the stuff that brings them to mind. There’s that ego thing again.
My objets d’ego are purchased by me. None were gifted, although one was inherited. I cannot explain this, and it gives me pause. In general, I derive pre-enjoyment from the buying of stuff, which for me is usually an analytical rather than spontaneous activity. Lacking a particularly sophisticated sense of appreciation, I tend to go for top of the middle quality range, or the entry level of a specialty or premium line. This gives me as much quality as I can appreciate at the best available price. Getting a deal on top of that (not paying retail) is frosting on the cake that I do not deny myself. eBay is a help with this.
The above analysis comes as close as I can to synthesizing a rationale for this fascination with stuff. Some may see it as a stamp of membership in the bourgeoisie, but I would counter that my consumption has never been conspicuous and my appreciation is deep and edging beyond the common toward the esoteric. Also my attraction to particular stuff usually results in a deep and often lifetime loyalty to a particular supplier.
An air of smugness settles over me (there’s that ego again) as I reflect on the fortunate choices I made those decades ago when I threw in with Audi (1971), Nikon (1971), and Apple (1985) as lifetime suppliers, my partners in stuff. Since commitment, I have personally owned only Audi cars (5 totaling 650,000 miles), only Nikon cameras (5), only Nikon lenses (8), and only Apple computers (6). While loyalty is my middle name, I check the competition prior to each replacement to see if a course correction might be warranted. But so far, what I liked long ago is still what I like. Most other companies do not cater to my specific tastes. Value, design, usability, and longevity are the keys to my stuff box, as is the need for a constant soul in the machine.
When others were screaming to buy American, I was buying the best stuff I could find, regardless of where it was made. My reasoning was simple. If one consciously chooses to buy less than the best for oneself, it defeats competition, causing products to stagnate, causing us all to descend into mediocrity. Apple was a true innovator, not a me-too marketing outfit run by generations of wonks. America should have been able to compete with Audi and Nikon, but they choose not to. The fat cats collected their monstrous paychecks anyway, but ultimately, the American labor force and taxpayer paid the price of collective competitive incompetence.
There are different ways for a company to approach it’s marketplace. One is to demonstrate a love affair with the product and the will to make your product the best in form and function available anywhere. Your core customer is an aficionado. This can only happen if your upper level executives are product aficionados also, loving the products they create. Management is adept and agile, and product developers are at the forefront of innovation, creating new market segments. You educate the larger public to develop their taste for your product, a higher form of marketing. Your market is upscale, your name is perceived as synonymous with best in class, you get peer pressure pushing to your side. Even your entry level product is admired for the quality of experience it represents. All your products have an identifiable ‘soul’, one that persists over product generations.
Most companies do not operate in this plane and many approach the opposite extreme. Their upper level executives are interchangeable MBAs, glorified marketeers and accountants. The lowest common denominator is what their product developers aim for. You sell the public down to your products with a one size fits all philosophy. You cheapen your products mercilessly to compete on price alone. You design your products with obsolescence in mind, ensuring return customers sooner rather than later. Your management structure is inefficient and ossified. New market segments are never envisioned, existing market opportunities are routinely missed, and long term market trends are ignored because their relevance cannot be connected to next quarter’s bottom line.