Pleasure in Provenance: A Compelling Case Against Signaling Status

As a self-proclaimed lover of shops, shopping, things and stuff, I am drawn to discussions about why we buy, the comfort of objects, and the various theories of conspicuous consumption. Consumerism is packed with negative connotation and often frowned upon, which is so peculiar to me, given markets are the cornerstone of communities, and the homes and wares of humans throughout history are treasured, auctioned, or housed in glass cases for museum goers to admire.

We love things. And yet the dominant utilitarian or moralist perspective is that desiring things is bad. Adorning ourselves in dreams is a foolish, shallow pursuit. That it’s all done to broadcast pecking order, ego — and somehow everything boils down to the mating game.

I think that’s rubbish. So was delighted to read Paul Bloom’s article The Lure of Luxury in the Boston Review. Specifically, where he starts to chip away at the role provenance plays in our attachment to — and the importance of things. He writes,

“Children experience the same boost in value in their attachments to teddy bears and security blankets. Psychologist Bruce Hood and I tested this by presenting children with a machine we described as a duplicating device. We then fooled the children into believing that we had made perfect copies of their attachment objects and asked them which they wanted to take home, the original or the duplicate. They tended to want the original.”

Amazing. So fascinating. I think I would almost certainly react the same way. And I’m basically a grown-up.

He goes on, “The depth of pleasure, and, in particular, the importance we give to history, applies to many domains, including food, artwork, and luxury goods. From this perspective, the lure of such goods is not limited to their utility or beauty or to our beliefs that possessing them will impress people. Part of the lure is that we believe these items have a certain sort of history. The pleasure we get from these objects is genuine and aesthetic, not mostly sensory.”

Tethering ourselves to things is about story. And I know, we are so saturated by the concept of storytelling at this point, I almost rolled my own eyes as I wrote it. But the Internet of Things is about so much more than attaching data to objects. I believe it’s about attaching narrative to things. Because narrative creates our sense of self. And whether we chose to broadcast that or keep it solely to ourselves, the desire write our own story is just as important and potentially moreso than the desire to attract a mate.

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