I recently watched a documentary about the rise, and rise, of the online retailer Amazon. Though it started with just books it now sells pretty much everything. Stuff, basically, most of which we don't need but have been lured into thinking we do by manipulative advertising, or that cliche of, retail therapy.
I'm not long back home from a few days in London, where I was attending an assessment course for a possible youth work contract. As I sat in various workshops I couldn't help noticing how often people were checking their mobile devices, even when it hadn't made a noise for an incoming text or some such thing. The younger the person, the more they checked it. During lunch someone was ordering something on, you guessed it, Amazon, using their tablet. Clearly it just couldn't wait until they were home.
During one afternoon we were out and about on the streets of London, and I lost count of the number of people I almost walked into who had their heads down, transfixed by their mobile phone. This was also a mid-week day, and the streets were crowded with people out shopping, laden down with bags of stuff. Probably hoping that this new purchase would be the one to make them happy.
Everywhere, on buses, shop windows, neon sings and people handing out fliers, were adverts trying to convince us to buy.
This "stuff" all has a consequence of course, in terms of the rare natural resources we are consuming at an ever increasing rate. Much like the train I travelled on, we are heading to a destination that has a definitive end, at an ever increasing pace. As we consume, consume, and consume some more, we are eventually going to run out of track, very abruptly. As the train announcer put it, when we arrived at our destination; "...where this train terminates".
I'm reminded of a saying by a Hindu Sadhu:
"If we don't change our ways we are likely to arrive where we are headed".
My journey home seemed to be a gradual reverse of the chaos of London. Gradually over the five hours back to Edinburgh, the train emptied of people and grew steadily quiet. I stepped out onto the night street of Edinburgh to a fine, refreshing drizzle, a pleasant change from the oily grime that I had accumulated in London. After a short bus ride home I wandered slowly down the street where I live and out onto the edge of the beach next to my house, with just the gentle sound of the waves caressing the shoreline.
The next time you think that some retail therapy will make you happy, and that one gadget you've been longing for and have been persuaded to acquire, remember this interesting statistic; the average length of time that a new purchased item, whether it be a shirt or a car, is a novelty or has special appeal, is just 11 days.
Then it just becomes part of your general collection of stuff.