Every year around the Solstice, I buy myself something I would never buy for myself during the year. It’s not a present to myself, but more of a way to remind myself that life is for living. A little frivolity is a good thing. I live to work, not work to live, but there is a lot of life that falls outside the joys of labor. if you enjoy working, you can easily forget that there are many other things outside work that you enjoy equally. I a disciplined moderation in life helps to maintain the proper perspective.
Usually my annual indulgence is a gadget or technology item that I really have no use for, much less a need for. I have a closet full of old electronic toys. Some years I’ll upgrade something I do need to a version I really don’t need. Last year I upgraded my home PC for one with high end sound and video. I’m typing this on a high end laptop I bought two years ago at Solstice. The old laptop was fine, but the new one has surround sound and HD video! I’ve watched exactly one movie on it and never played a single game.
This year, I’m at a loss. I’ve searched around for new gadgets and nothing jumps out to me. The hot new item is the Amazon Alexa. A few people have suggested that to me. That strike me as a stupid and pointless bit of nonsense that would just aggravate me. The hip young people in the commercials strike me as the sort of people I will send to the labor camps once I’m ruler of these lands. Having the fine people at Amazon spy on me like a doting mother is not something I will ever accept.
I thought about getting a new tablet, but there’s nothing new in tablets that excites me. I hate reading books from them anyway. I tried various versions of e-readers and I just don’t like it. My 7-inch model I got a couple of years ago works fine and does what I need it to do, which is let me goof off on twitter from the couch. I also wonder if staring at tablets close to your face is good for your eyes. I notice that I suffer from eye strain if I use the thing for more than an hour. Maybe it is just me, but that’s my suspicion.
Looking around at the other tech on the market for Solstice, I get the same vibe. It’s mostly polished up versions of stuff that has been around for a while. The new XBox I see advertised looks like the old one, but in a different color. The one item that looks cool is the heads up display for exercise that you can attach to your glasses. But, I looking like a douche bag is not a good idea. if you are an elite athlete, you can do it, but otherwise guys running around with gadgets on their heads are viewed as idiots.
Part of what plagues me these days is getting old. Once a man hits his middle years, the frivolous things lose their attraction. TV people know this, which is why they target kids and women. Men will watch sports and some shows with the wife, but otherwise, older men are not into TV. The same is true of movies. Even when it comes to sports, men lose some of their enthusiasm as they get older. Again, it is why they market jersey and caps to the young guys. they have the passion for it.
That said, I’m not an acquisitive guy and I don’t place much value in material possessions. I’m not quite Amish, but I am a plain person. Possessions come with obligations and often those obligations vastly outweigh the utility of the item. I’d like a boat, for example, but then I think about the work it takes to keep a boat. It is not just the cost of it. You have to be constantly fiddling with the things. An acquaintance in Florida has a boat. A two hour ride means an hour prep time and two hours after cleaning it up and hoisting into the dock. No thanks.
The point being that owning stuff usually means taking on obligations. In modern times, that means most people have credit card obligations they will never pay down. The result is they have fewer choices in other areas of their life. This is especially true of the lower classes who lack impulse control. They see, they want, they buy it on credit without much thought about the long term ramifications. That XBox in the living room can be quite demanding when it is sitting on the Visa bill at 23.9% interest. Heroin is less demanding than the material culture of our age.
Even so, I’m hunting around for some toy to buy this year and I’m coming up empty. I wonder if we have maybe hit some sort of dead end on the gadget front. The low hanging fruit of technology was picked long ago. The mobile phone and e-mail changed our world. Angry birds on your smart phone has not changed much of anything. Most people have a phone, a tablet and a PC. Everyone has a flat screen TV and some sort of console for games or movies. On the electronic gizmo front, we seem to have hit a dead end.
That may not be a terrible thing. Looking for some sort of gadget to buy, it occurred to me that I may find more pleasure in something else. I have been talking about cord cutting for a year. I should get on with it. I’ll need to upgrade my internet from DSL to cable if I want to do on-line video. That means wiring the house, which would be a nice weekend job. Alternatively, the guy down the road is selling an old Jeep that is a project car. Maybe that’s a better use of my Solstice money. Perhaps a return trip to Europe this winter, to gloat about Trump to the Euros.
There very well may be an end point to the materialist culture that blossomed in America last century. I could just be an old man with narrow interests, but it does feel like we have all the crap we need. If so, then perhaps a return to other pleasures will be the next big thing. It would be ironic that the politics of overthrowing the old hippies, currently in charge, ushers in one aspect of hippy culture – anti-materialism. Maybe the alt-right will adopt the old hippy mantra, “turn on, tune in, drop out” popularized fifty years ago by Timothy Leary. Maybe Amazon has a book on that…