One of my favorite activities is to throw a cursory glance at my local craigslist website whenever Apple unveils their fall lineup. As soon as a new iPhone is introduced, without fail dozens of ads spring up, Apple addicts wanting to get rid of their suddenly outdated iPhone 4S, in anticipation of waiting in line outside the Apple store to be one of the first to own the iPhone 5. Besides being sad and depressing, it’s also a very telling sign of our materialistic culture. The pursuit of useless crap has become the new national pastime. Apparently there is nothing more exhilarating then subtly showing off your new toy on the subway to complete strangers that could care less. This childlike behavior should have disappeared as we grew up, but constant advertising erodes our self-consciousness and makes us spend our money on useless junk that serves no real purpose. We don’t need to live like monks, but there are alternatives to buying the newest, shiniest Apple product every autumn.
Studies have shown that buying a physical object for purposes of happiness leaves only a fleeting feeling of joy. There’s only so long that new iPhone will keep you happy. Buying memories, through travelling, or seeing family and friends, is shown to sustain that happiness much longer. I came to believe this as recently as two years ago, when I first set foot upon Europe, Romania in particular. I had one of the best vacations of my life, and until the day I die I’ll always have memories of visiting 500 year old monasteries in northern Romania, driving on muddy back roads a stone’s throw away from the Ukrainian border. Before that, I was like most Americans, in that I watched a lot of television and achieved happiness through Best Buy visits and a large DVD shelf. It took me almost 30 years to change my habits, and I hope others will find out that constant advertising has them buying junk they’ll never need to impress people they really don’t like.
I have a close family member who can’t go 10 minutes without telling me how much he paid for his new 3D television, or how much his elaborate back yard party cost. But it’s been the better part of a decade since he’s set foot out of his home state. Agoraphobia, a financially unstable childhood and American materialism have all contributed to him and his wife owning 6 or 7 television sets between just the 2 of them. This is not the recipe for sustained happiness. Clearly, he feels a need to buy the latest gadget to feel spiritual enlightenment. Visiting is never fun, because having to feign interest in yet another purchase is exhausting and irritating. Having just a small passion or cheap interest would work wonders for his fragile ego, but as of yet his only happiness lies in material goods.
Apple’s just a very clear example of a country obsessed with materialism. McMansions, suburban moms driving Humvees, and 52 inch 3D televisions are proof that spending millions on advertising pays off. If it didn’t, driving along a stretch of rural highway would feel a lot different without billboards popping up advertising local wholesale businesses and having the ability to buy every kind of junk food at every roadside gas station. It is impossible to escape advertising, but it’s not hard to give up the pursuit of material goods to feel satisfied with life. They’re almost always superfluous, and ultimately end up in a junk pile or garage sale. Ignore the urge to stand in line at 5AM to be the first in your office to have an iPhone 5. It may temporarily hold the attention of your colleagues, but is $300 really worth 5 minutes of short lived adulation?