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One Man's Valuable Possessions are Another Man's “Irrelevant Abundance”

How do you separate that which is clutter from that which is actually valuable in a society that’s trying to rid itself of meaningless objects? This is something I have struggled with constantly while reading material dealing with the issue of our reliance on consumer goods.

I am simply not convinced that all consumer goods are bad.

To be fair, only the extremes of the environmental movement seem to be arguing anything quite that radical. The problem is that the middle ground is always fuzzy, so I’m never sure which of the products I use on a day-to-day basis I’m supposed to feel guilty for using.

I could easily see where some would define those consumer goods which I consider the most valuable as unnecessary wastes of resources that should be done away with: my new laptop, for instance, or perhaps my video game consoles or my iPhone which I carry around with me everywhere.

But to those who would argue that, I would argue that I consider these objects more than just metal and plastic clutter that is taking away from the real sources of happiness in my life. These devices, which may seem so useless to some, are extremely valuable to me.

With my computer I am able to stay informed and connected to the world around me. I can communicate my ideas to others through blogging and express my own creativity with a word processor much more easily than with a pen and paper. I can read the opinions of those different and more knowledgeable than myself. Indeed, without my computer I would be far more ignorant of our ecological concerns than I currently am due to the sheer amount of knowledge available through the Internet.
My iPhone performs a similar function. Not only is it “cool” and fun, providing many sources of entertainment through the applications I can use on it, but it also helps keep me connected with those I care about. Being a couple of taps away from friends or family, wherever I happen to be standing, is something I value highly. Without this phone, or similar computer programs, there are certain friends I would simply lose contact with altogether, which would be a true shame.

My game consoles are admittedly a luxury, moreso than the other devices I have mentioned, and bring up a somewhat different question. When does personal fulfillment spill over into needless consumption?

Does the fact that I am enjoying the use of these pieces of equipment that I could very well live a reasonably complete life without make me a huge part of the problem? Should I dump them in my quest for environmentalism and instead take up meditation as a more planet-friendly route to escapism?

Or is there perhaps actually some value in them?

There is no question these devices use resources in ways that are unsustainable. There is no question that some people would find them completely needless and wasteful.

But at the same time there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that my life has been made more meaningful by these things.

I have met numerous friends whom I hold very dear through my hobby of video games.

I have experienced many emotions at the hands of video games, the stories they tell, and the gameplay the present.

I have always been fascinated by this medium and the new dimensions it brings to human storytelling. I have no doubt that video games are simply a modern take on the campfire story of yore. They may not yet have the same level of popularity or emotional depth, but even the most basic, button-mashing, mindless video game is a form of escapism just like listening to someone tell a good story.

Like music, like movies, like books, like art, and like the art of storytelling that has been around for centuries, video games are another venue of human creativity that I believe should be highly valued.

Yes they are wasteful. Yes they are technically unnecessary. But they are part of that creative spirit which so wonderfully separates humans from other species.

I present these issues not with some grand master plan or all-encompassing theory on how things should be. Rather, I bring up these issues because they are representative of the changes our society is going through in an attempt to finally deal with our harmful effect on the world around us.

One of the biggest reasons we are so reluctant to shift our ways is because we don’t know where the future will take us or what we will have to sacrifice.

This is a sentiment I can fully sympathize with. I am anxious to move the world into a more sustainable future in whatever ways I can. At the same time, I am nervous that perhaps we might go too far and brand those creations that were actually of some use, of some value, with a negative stigma - a proverbial scarlet letter.

Perhaps W, for wasteful.

I don’t want to see a giant W branded on my MacBook, my iPhone, or my Xbox. While my situation certainly isn’t true for everyone, for me these devices truly bring happiness to my life beyond some illusion of happy consumerism and I do not wish to forfeit them in some blind quest for a perfect world. I’m sure others have their own categorical niches of devices which they find just as valuable; just as fulfilling.

Am I wrong? Am I misguided?

What I do know is that I am confused. I do not want to be the chain dragging the world’s progress backward and denying us our better future, but at the same time I don’t want our future to be so irreversibly altered that others will not know of these wonderful products of human creativity and ingenuity and be able to derive value and joy from them as I do.

This is, I suppose, the eternal quandary of a tech-obsessed, ecologically minded individual. Hopefully the path will become clear to me eventually.

In the meantime, I’m going to go stare at a glowing rectangle, sure to have a smile on my face.


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