So, I have been thinking about stuff lately. You know, the possessions, objects, and other things that we buy, collect, or otherwise use in our daily lives. And specifically, I am reflecting upon my relationship with some of the stuff in my life. One of my prompts along these lines is a book by psychologist Salman Akhtar titled Objects of Our Desire: Exploring Our Intimate Connections with the Things Around Us.
And the big takeaway from it for me is this gem: “As we grow and change, so do our things—the paraphernalia of identity [emphasis mine]. Every step of the way, life requires us to leave some of our possessions behind. That we do so with relative ease is because we do not really give up much. We replace one set of things with another that better fits our needs and wishes.”
It is no secret to regular readers that I am a fan of Apple products. And yet as tempted as I am at times to upgrade to the latest gadget, I am pleased to report that more often than not I am able to resist such temptations. For example, the laptop I am writing this on is a circa 2012 MacBook Air, which makes it “vintage” by Apple standards. Vintage products are those that have not been manufactured for more than five and less than seven years ago, according to Apple.
The theologian Reinhold Niebuhr said that the most natural expression of the self is the expansion through possessions. But it is up to each of us to determine what that means in our own lives. I think it is too much to suggest “we are what we own,” but our possessions often do reflect what is meaningful to us. And suffice it to say technology changes so fast that we must strive to tame it rather than allow it to consume our lives.
Another prompt for my reflection about possessions is the documentary California Typewriter, which features what is likely the last typewriter store in America and explores the place of old school technology such as the manual typewriter. The filmmaker interviews famous people like writer David McCullough and actor Tom Hanks who exclusively use such truly vintage tools of technology.
Included in the film is a typewriter manifesto, which states, in part: “We strike a blow for self-reliance, privacy, and coherence against dependency, surveillance, and disintegration.” It is something to think about given recent online security breaches and the ceaseless need for upgrading hardware and updating software on our computers.
As the growing popularity of typewriters suggests, it appears what is old is new again in many respects. Other types of older technology that are making a comeback include vinyl albums, film cameras, and flip phones, among numerous others. With the prospect of self-driving cars and the advent of so-called smart television sets [both of which possess surveillance capabilities] the line between us possessing our tools and them possessing us is getting blurred. Whether or not “the revolution will be typewritten,” as the manifesto suggests, we must exercise due vigilance.