It’s embarrassing how excited I am about my new Dyson. It’s like the pinnacle of first-world accumulation: the fanciest vacuum on the market – a vacuum that doesn’t suck. I mean, it sucks; you know what I mean. It’s like the Tesla of the vacuum world. It even has a little screen that shows me exactly how many (millions? billions?) of particles of peanut butter toast and sand are being sucked up.
The Dyson may be indispensable, but can it suck up our materialism?Credit:Dyson
And then my husband asked me what I wanted for Christmas. I suddenly remembered the days when you would have to wait until Christmas to get a new bike or a pet dog, or even that Mariah Carey CD that cost $30 at Sanity. And I felt a twinge of sadness. There’s nothing I want or need that I haven’t already obtained during the year.
I’m more excited about the order from Shein than I am about getting Christmas presents. The growl of the postman’s bike on the street is like the pitter-patter of reindeer hooves on the roof. Daily tracking of the package. Will it arrive today or tomorrow?
We rarely hold back if we want a pair of shoes, a new jumper, or a vacuum cleaner. There are all sorts of payment plans and sales (Black Friday!) and free delivery that dangle the carrot over our heads.
One year at Christmas, my siblings and I – at a loss for what to buy each other – sat on the couch and transferred money to each other. It was at that point I realised the magic had faded.
Our modern-day Christmas elves have moved from the North Pole into Amazon (wish) “fulfilment centres” around the world, working day and night to pack the boxes we open like kids at Christmas, any time of the year. The “unboxing” trend on YouTube – people filming themselves opening their packages from Amazon or Lululemon for the enjoyment of others – is so bizarre, it should make us stop and think how we got to this point. It’s like pornography for shopping addicts.
Adrian Hon, the creator of the app “Zombies, Run!” wrote in his recent book, You’ve Been Played, that Amazon fulfilment centre workers were given a digital pet, such as a flying dragon, which they could race around a course against another worker, according to how quickly they worked. It seems appropriate they play games while catering to the overgrown children waiting to have their smartwatch and hairdryer delivered yesterday.
Amazon workers staged protests around the world during Black Friday sales. There are always new stories about Amazon workers’ injuries, and the staff turnover rate is roughly 150 per cent a year.
“There’s a direct connection between that pleasure of getting that box tomorrow and the pain that’s happening with the Amazon worker in the warehouse,” Will Evans says in the documentary Tech Titans. Or as comedian Patton Oswald puts it later in the film, “I’m a slave to the now, and I’m a slave to convenience.”
Given the workers at the Amazon fulfilment centres’ jobs will one day be made obsolete by a robot, you might wonder if they’ve been slowly turning into them, distracted by infantilising games.
It’s never a good idea to think too deeply about where our stuff comes from because you realise how deeply entangled we are in systems that don’t enhance our humanity or the humanity of others. There’s always a cost somewhere along the chain – maybe in some distant factory in China – but we never see it directly. It just lingers vaguely in the back of our minds – something we should probably educate ourselves about one day, but we’re too busy today.
As we tighten the belt this Christmas, it might be a good chance to reflect on our patterns of consumption and understand what they say about our values.
I’m not sure I’ll ever get rid of that dopamine hit I get when I see a cardboard box at my front door, but I could get better at creating rather than consuming. Maybe one day Dyson will invent a vacuum to suck up this tiny, persistent materialistic streak. I would buy that.
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