Posts in April
The opening of the new V & A exhibition – What is Luxury? – has got the press into a lather this week trying to decide what constitutes the ultimate indulgence, and how it will be defined in the future. Surely the simple answer is ‘silence’ or at least the absence of irritating distractions. Has silence become the ultimate luxury good in our frantic world?
The author Mathew Crawford’s, whose new book The World Beyond Your Head is just out, says, “Figuring out ways to capture and hold people’s attention is the centre of contemporary capitalism. There is this invisible and ubiquitous grabbing at something that’s the most intimate thing you have, because it determines what’s present in your consciousness. It makes it impossible to think or rehearse a remembered conversation, and you can’t chat with a stranger because we all try to close ourselves off from this grating condition of being addressed all the time”.
As a nation we seem to have a developed a thirst for lists and superlatives, and TV shows ranking everything from top ten records, funniest comedians, and highest bridges abound. So, great news! With the Sunday Times Rich List out this weekend, Retail Week magazine has just published its list of the world’s 100 richest retailers. At number one is Amancio Ortega, who has managed to amass an eye-watering £38.76bn. Whilst, coming in last in this select cohort, are Michael and Rainer Schmidt-Ruthenbeck with a paltry £1.33bn between them! Add the whole lot together and they’re probably worth more than the economic deficit of a modest sized country, and I’m sure they’re worth every penny!
The nerd in me welcomes the arrival of another listing; a kind of retail Top Trumps for those who like order in their lives. And I’m sure that those at the top of the rankings are puffing their chests out with pride at the confirmation of their peerless business acumen. But apart from giving their egos an unnecessary boost, and giving Retail Week a few more column inches, what’s the purpose of these rich lists?
Yes, it’s heart-warming to read the entrepreneurs’ epic struggles from rags to riches, but are their stories and wealth meant to inspire envy or admiration? Do they prove – as Gordon Gekko said – that “greed is good”? Should we be overjoyed by their success, or depressed by our lack of it?
Are there lessons to be learned or a moral to be inferred? For instance, if only we lazy slackers got off our backsides could we be as rich as Croesus too? Inspired by this example lowly paid shop staff will surely be spurred on to make their own pile from retail! Or, should those laggard billionaires ranked eighty through one hundred pull their socks up and emulate their betters in the higher echelons?
I suppose, when all’s said and done, some good has come of it after all. At least compiling the data kept some journalists and accountants in work – proving that wealth does indeed ‘trickle down’. And during these austere times it does your heart good to confirm – like the politician said – that “we’re all in this together”!
Was it an April Fools stunt? When launched on the first of the month, some commentators thought Amazon’s new Dash service was just that. But it isn’t! It’s more like a bad dream really; a glimpse into a dystopian future, some might say! I wouldn’t go that far but it does mark another way-point on our descent into total consumerist immersion.
Taken at face value, the idea of having handy prompts around the house reminding you to order everyday essentials is no bad thing. Who doesn’t need a little help compiling their shopping list? Who hasn’t exclaimed “damn, I should have got toothpaste!!” when unpacking a week’s shopping? It’s frustrating, but conquering the shortcomings of one’s memory is a useful discipline!
But, if I’m reading this right, Dash isn’t so much about useful prompts and organising your needs but instant gratification, slavish loyalty to brands, and elimination of competition. It’s potentially resource hungry and wasteful too. Regular replenishment is one thing. Programmed delivery of printing ink, water filters, and janitorial supplies has got to be more efficient, but how does the economics of whizzing round with an instant toilet or kitchen roll stack up?
Presumably some-one has to pay for delivery. Would that be Amazon, the customer, or the self-employed courier; paid per parcel, but responsible for his own fuel and vehicle, and working unlimited hours? Or maybe the skies will soon be buzzing with delivery drones? Ignore the Sunday afternoons – and maybe nights – shattered by infernal noise, what is the risk of being poleaxed by a parcel falling from the sky, or swiped across the head by a rogue drone, as it bounces off your roof, and breaks a few tiles into the bargain? Threats to privacy, security, vandals with catapults, portents of Metropolis-the list of reasons not to use delivery drones just goes on and on!
24/7: Terminal Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep, by Jonathan Crary
……….the idea of a divergence between a human world and the operation of global systems with the capacity to occupy every waking hour of one’s life seems dated and inapt. Now there are numerous pressures for individuals to reimagine and refigure themselves as being of the same consistency and values as the dematerialized commodities and social connections in which they are immersed so extensively……….
……There is a pervasive illusion that, as more of the earth’s biosphere is annihilated or irreparably damaged, human beings can magically disassociate themselves from it and transfer their interdependencies to the mecanosphere of global capitalism. The more one identifies with the insubstantial electronic surrogates for the physical self, the more one seems to conjure an exemption from the biocide underway everywhere on the planet. At the same time, one becomes chillingly oblivious to the fragility and transience of actual living things.