Monday, August 15, 2011

Pod People (17 Aug 2010)

The BBC reports on Kelly Sutton, the "21st century minimalist" and proprietor of a website called Cult of Less. He had concluded that he needs next to no possessions since the meaningful things in this life (i.e. entertainment media) have become by and large digitized (via Carles).
This 21st-Century minimalist says he got rid of much of his clutter because he felt the ever-increasing number of available digital goods have provided adequate replacements for his former physical possessions.
"I think cutting down on physical commodities in general might be a trend of my generation - cutting down on physical commodities that can be replaced by digital counterparts will be a fact," said Mr Sutton.
This seems like an intermediate phase before we wire the internet directly into our brains and enter the goo pods from The Matrix.

I would have an easier time getting behind this idea if it didn't seem like Sutton was just another stunt consumer trying and succeeding in becoming a meme -- like the guy who didn't ride in a car or the guy who made his family recycle everything or whatever. All these stunts give the impression that ethics themselves are also stunts, good only for attracting lucrative attention, and typically beyond the capabilities of ordinary people in their everyday life. Leading a better life quietly, without drawing lots of attention to it or making it seem extreme, outrageous or clever, is apparently now tantamount to not leading a better life at all. Achieving notoriety is the supreme moral guideline, and lesser imperatives can be subordinated to that ultimate goal.

There is a good chance that consumers of the future will own fewer DVDs, books, and records, and so on, but this will possibly prompt an explosion in the collection of supplementary meaningful objects -- tchotchkes of all kinds, not just culture industry products. Not everyone can be "minimalist" because then minimal will simply become normal, and some new distinctive posture will have to be adopted. The absence of things will no longer do the job of connoting what the presence of things already connotes for most people -- one's self-conception as an externalized posture.

The problem in our culture is not so much that there is too much stuff but that we are afflicted with insatiable egocentricity, which the stuff merely reflects. To borrow from Baudrillard, the stuff elucidates the code, and boasting about getting rid of it is just another moment of elucidation, another way of consuming it -- that is, getting it to signify ourselves. If you are getting rid of stuff and boasting of it online, you are probably canceling the import of your gesture out. Replacing real stuff with digital symbols of its rejection is just a passing gesture rather than real revolution, which requires rethinking the self, not simply what that self possesses.

(Apologies to those who were led to believe by the title that this would be a post about Trumpy doing magic things.)

UPDATE: Andrew Potter has more.

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