22 November 2019

Black Friday and the Diderot effect

Black Friday, much like Christmas, has gradually extended in scope. The word Friday” is doing some heavy lifting to justify the sales blitzkreig that will sweep over us for a fortnight. This is, patently, for no other reason than to extend the opportunity for us to be parted with our money and accumulate more stuff. Scarcity may have some economic value but it is not, so it seems, as effective as a relentless dogged exposure to the deals’ on offer.

If you do find yourself eyeing up the latest Black Friday bargains then I’d point you towards the Diderot effect.° The adverse consequences of the Diderot effect happen when you buy something that isn’t complementary to one’s life. The risk is that your spending then escalates as you seek more products to match this item and you lose control. Frenchman Diderot wrote, around 250 years ago, an essay with the wonderfully humdrum title: Regrets on Parting with My Old Dressing Gown.° He tells the sorry tale of how a smart new scarlet dressing gown left him feeling rather dissatisfied with the other rather tawdry and threadbare possessions in his life. He went on a spree and accumulated debts. Actually, the essay is not a terribly easy read and the popularisation of the term is thanks to an anthropologist, Grant McCracken.

The point, however, is well made. The culture of consumerism is exemplified by Black Friday. We are being manipulated. It is intrusive. And, as well as the unsustainable environmental costs, it doesn’t even make us happy.

Recently, I found myself coveting a smartwatch. A GPS device that could tell me how far I had run, my heart rate, and a million and one other metrics. The new Garmin Fenix 6 caught my eye and I perused the reviews, making my decision on which one I should get. Then, I caught myself. I don’t need one of these. I don’t think it will make me life better. I have a perfectly serviceable watch and I’m not going to get more joy from my running by measuring it in any more detail than I already do. One of the best things one can do to avoid getting sucked in is to avoid advertising. Or, if you are like me, develop strongly contrarian responses when exposed to advertising. The moment I realised I didn’t need a Garmin Fenix 6 was when I saw a TV advert with Ant Middleton° trying to sell it to me. He’s a picture of rugged masculinity, battling the elements with his Garmin. Absolute fucking bullshit, I thought. I’ll stick with my Casio watch.

My Casio is the W-735H version. I would have the wonderfully light and very retro Casio F-91W° but I found the alarm was sometimes lost on me and the light is rubbish. The W-735H can usually be found for under £20, and it has a vibrating alarm that has never failed to wake me. It also has a clear light that is easy to read in bed at night. (Actually, I have to cup it with my hand to avoid dazzling my wife.) What more do I need?

As Seneca said: It was nature’s intention that there should be no great need of great equipment for a good life: every individual can make himself happy”.


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