Why Do We Collect?
When an eight-year-old Australian boy, Corona De Vries, was bullied by his classmates because of his name, (he was called the coronavirus) he did something unusual. Most kids might have taken to social media, told their parents, or found some way to exact revenge. Instead, Corona wrote to actor Tom Hanks explaining his feelings.
Tom Hanks, who had contracted the coronavirus while in Australia, tried to comfort the young boy with a gift. One might have thought he would have sent him over some Toy Story merchandise — an obvious choice for an eight-year-old boy but instead, Tom Hanks sent him a typewriter.
Yes, a typewriter. At first, a typewriter might seem like an unusual gift for a young boy. However, the typewriter was a Corona brand, perhaps emphasizing that lots of good things are named Corona too. If you wondered why Tom Hanks would ever think of sending a typewriter to a boy, you are probably not alone. Tom Hanks is, in fact, a collector of rare typewriters, owning over at least 250.
When we think of collectors, we think of loners, socially inept teenage boys who get bullied for their strange and weird collections. However, like most stereotypes, this one is far more complex. The thing is that we are all collectors at one point in our lives — sports cards, coins, stamps, art, toys, cars, horses, you name it.
Collecting is the ultimate human experience. It brings us together in surprising and interesting ways. Collectors collect because that is what we are programmed to do. It is in our DNA. It feeds into the brain’s pleasure sensors, bringing us joy and fulfillment.
Everybody has a different reason to start and expand a collection, but here are a few of the most common ones:
Filling In the Void
Now it may seem like collectors have something wrong with them, something missing, but the fact is that all humans try to fill in what we perceive as gaps in our psyche. We fill it with different things, of course, sometimes with people, substances, or entertainment. Collectors just do it by arranging, organizing and presenting their collectables in a way that makes sense to them. It gives them a safe zone, a place of refuge where fears and insecurities are managed and the world, or their perception of it, seems normal.
We often like to show off our collections to our friends and family, even when they care very little for the items themselves. We feel happy that we have something unique and interesting that somebody else doesn’t have. Now, most people will look at pride as bad — it is, after all, one of the Seven Deadly Sins, but pride can be a positive emotion as well. Pride gives us a sense of ourselves, it gives us our self-esteem, and it shows us who we are. Pride motivates us and helps us accomplish things we wouldn’t otherwise do.
We get an adrenaline hit whenever we feel like we’ve discovered a bargain. We are always looking out for the best deals and are happy when we receive a good price for something. With collections, sometimes the person selling doesn’t know the value of the item or sometimes the collector stumbles onto something that may not have any monetary value, but is valuable in its rarity.
Those who aren’t avid collectors just shake their heads when someone spends their entire weekend combing online marketplaces or at garage sales searching for that unique find. To collectors, this isn’t time wasted. It’s fun and thrilling to never know what you might discover.
Sometimes collectors don’t always collect simply for the emotional component. Some collectors do it to make money. For most of us, there isn’t much money to be made in collections, but occasionally someone hits the jackpot. This can be the case for art collectors, wine collectors or sport memorabilia collectors. But occasionally, other types of collectors get lucky. In 2018, a stamp collection sold for just over $10 million dollars.
The Future of Collections
While in the past, collections have been physical objects. Things you could touch and feel. It’s only recently that collections have become digital. Up to now, most digital collections have been to gain or assemble knowledge, not because the collection had any particular emotional or physical value.
Early digital collection centered around books, files, and information. One of the earliest concepts of an informational collection was in 1945 and called the “Memex”. Way before the internet, the creators of the Memex envisioned it as a way to store all books, records and communications so they were easily accessible to the public.
Another early project was centered around an electronic card catalogue known as the Online Public Access Catalog. By the early 80s, this catalogue had successfully replaced the traditional card catalogue system in many academic institutions, libraries and universities.
In 2007, a graphic designer started a project called “Everyday’s.” The concept was simple. Every day he would produce a drawing to help promote his freelance work and to sharpen his skills. He kept at it, compiling over 13 years — amazingly not missing a day — worth of artwork which he eventually digitized and sold through Christie’s for $63.3 million, instantly catapulting him to one of the most valuable living artists.
While most people might be blown away that something digital might go for that much money, there isn’t anything fundamentally different — emotionally speaking — from something that is physical that is something that is not.
If you look at all the reasons why people collect, it actually isn’t as strange as it may seem at first glance.
Collections are not something that is generally encouraged when we are younger. There isn’t anything particularly useful about collections which is perhaps why the behaviour is often ridiculed. But we can’t deny our compulsion to do it, even as we make fun of the act.
In fact, collecting is as old as humanity itself. The earliest forms of a known collection dates back to Mesopotamia and Egypt in the 3rd millennium BCE. But it no doubt goes back even further.
We have come a long way since then. As technology progresses, we will continue to collect, both physically and digitally, because collecting is really part of who we are as a species and says something about us.