I read a fun piece by Charlie Brooker in The Guardian recently:
There’s too much stuff. We live in a stuff-a-lanche.
I’m fairly certain I recently passed a rather pathetic tipping point, and now own more unread books and unwatched DVDs than my remaining lifespan will be able to sustain. I can’t possibly read all these pages, watch all these movies, before the grim reaper comes knocking. The bastard things are going to outlive me. It’s not fair. They can’t even breathe.
Every day we humans gleefully churn out yet more books and films and TV shows and videogames and websites and magazine articles and blog posts and emails and text messages, all of it hanging around, competing for attention. Without leaving my seat I can access virtually any piece of music ever recorded, download any film ever made, order any book ever written. And the end result is that I hardly experience any of it. It’s too much. I’ve had it with choice. It makes my head spin.
In short: I’ve tried more. It’s awful. I want less, and I want it now.
Brooker concludes that he wants “to be told what to read, watch and listen to”, tongue-in-cheek I’m assuming, but the underlying point of wanting less stuff is rather more serious.
First, most of us (me included) have too much stuff. It’s a truism that we live in a “consumer society”, built on production and consumption, geared to disposability and waste. It isn’t rational, it isn’t good for the planet, it isn’t going to last. We’re running out of time on the environment and on resources like oil and rare metals. I believe that these are the decades of “peak stuff”, and that future generations will look back on our wasteful lifestyles with disgust.
Second, it isn’t even clear that (after the necessities of life are met) having more stuff makes us any happier. It’s the points that Brooker is making comically: at some point stuff becomes a burden, at some point choice becomes oppressive. (For some odd reason the latter gets me most strongly with toothpaste. There’s too many kinds. Buying toothpaste drives me nuts.)
So? Well – it would be good if we all took a leaf from Brooker’s book, and wanted less stuff. We could do that voluntarily as a culture. I think it’s highly unlikely, but we could, and we might even end up happier as a result. Or of course we could just carry on as we are and wait. Because the constraints of a finite planet and a fragile environment are going to impose their own reductions on stuff soon enough.