In a couple of days, I am moving houses and for the first time in my life, I realise that my relationship with the objects I own is changing. To begin with, this move will see my library reduced to half its former size. What’s the point of keeping so many books when there is Kindle? The same happens with my collection of DVDs and the fact that I don’t even have a DVD player in my laptop because I filled that space in my computer with another hard drive.
A few years ago, my art collection, my furniture and my ‘things’ used to define my identity. I am not so sure about that, these days. My home is my blog, the courses I teach and my friends. In other words, my home is made of experiences instead of possessions. This might seem like I am going through another chapter of my midlife crisis but I truly believe there is a change of paradigm that has to do with technology. Today, my most valued possessions are in my laptop and in the cloud.
Since we agreed to have our music stored as data owning a CD seems silly. A few years ago, my CD collection used to define me. These days, it expresses a phase of that kaleidoscopic experience called ‘my life’ which images I curate and present in Instagram. The same happens with my ‘DVD box sets’. It looks like, to paraphrase Karl Marx, everything solid melts into WiFi.
Today instead of buying we rent. With apps such as AirBnb, Kindle and Uber we tend to maximise our experiences instead of creating identity through the ownership of objects. Besides, young people have been forced into a position where it is almost impossible for them to own a property. Some of my friends have even started to participate in those car schemes were they share ownership of a car. This is a new world where commitment is reduced to its minimum. The Tinder era.
Data, however, is easier to lose than objects. I keep forgetting my passwords for I-Tunes which means that in certain cases I had to pay for the same album more than once for it is easier to do than instead of having to getting in touch with those ever inaccessible Help Desk phone numbers.
We need to bear in mind that almost all our personal mementos such as pictures and videos do not belong to us anymore but to those corporations who, to make things even worse, seem to use them to scratch information for enhancing their future dealings with us. Maybe this is why, according to Izabella Kaminska with the Financial Times, we are returning ‘to a feudal and authoritarian society’.
This new ‘renting’ culture where we do not own but rent is changing the way we relate to others. I am saying this because while I am moving houses I am realising that many of the objects I own not only define me but my relationships with others. There are objects and clothes, in my house, that I visually hate but that embody so much affection that I would have to throw away at some point. I don’t think I have that same kind of relationship with anything in Kindle or I-Tunes. There is a link that we cannot deny between possession and affection.
From the point of view of art, the XVIII century wunderkammer, for example, framed the collector’s objects and presented itself as an index of his erudition and refinement. During the XX century, our home and the way we decorated it became the ultimate expression of our taste and our status. Which curtains, which car and which table we owned determined the place that we claimed in society. Recently, this was replaced by designer fashion which in a self fashioning kind of way, presented itself as a tool for social pretense. Through fashion we can lie about our status or, better said, we can manipulate it. Veblen called it ‘conspicuous consumption’ and clothes are definitely a thing that we own. But if we look at clothes these days, they all look the same and seem to mirror an economy where outsourcing our personal inventories through Kindle, I-Tunes, Spotify and Airbnb has left us with fewer things to show. Why buying a house on the beach if I can go to whichever house on the beach I want to, enjoy it and leave it whenever I decide. Our economy tends to its dematerialisation. We rent what we need for the time that we need it and drop it.
But human beings remain equally addicted to status and to benchmark against others. These has not changed. What has changed is the way we claim status. Today we share our experiences through Instagram displaying our joy for others to see. It doesn’t come as a surprise that the multiawarded film La La Land understand success as better than love and not as fulfilment but as likeability. We smile all the time and we seem to have a fantastic life in Facebook and Instagram and our views are cool enough not be explored. Vogue ‘it girl’, Sofia Barrenechea (who also happens to be from Argentina) ‘produced’ her wedding in Patagonia as a photoshoot for Vogue. Her guests willingly complied because they aim to showcase their experience for the world to see it. It was not even about the experience anymore but about showcasing that experience in a way that could, easily, be decoded by others as ‘status’. This, of course, is changing the way we experience joy. In today’s world, we tend to own less but display more our feelings in an ‘editorial’ way. We all have become curators of our own experience and organising my move, I might have become a curator of my own garbage. J A T