Bobbing for Apples
My podcast partner excitedly reports that he’s ordered a new iMac. Perhaps tellingly, I struggled to remember what an iMac even is. My first thought was that it was one of those total-immersion cinemas (an IMAX) but knew that my friend couldn’t possibly have bought one of those.
It’s a symbollic triumph that the iMac had drifted so far from my consciousness. Back when I started out as an Escapologist, I would periodically visit the Apple Shop in Glasgow to test whether I could be seduced by these sophisticated pieces of technology. If I could remain unseduced by a tablet computer or a slick handheld book-reading thing, I knew I could withstand most of what consumer culture could throw at me. Tom Hodgkinson told me he does the same thing with the Argos home-shopping catalogue. I recommend this practice to anyone: allow the salesmen in, refuse everything and build up those muscles of resistance.
The new iMac is an admittedly lovely thing. But that’s all it is: a thing. A piece of stuff. Dan reports that the iMac’s 27-inch screen, “magic mouse” and new software will make him happy. Maybe it will. I just wouldn’t put so much emotional stock in a thing.
Pay attention, Armchair Psychologists: Dan had originally ordered a slightly-less-new iMac and was annoyed when its successor hit the market only days later. He acted quickly, telephoned the Apple people and had his order generously upgraded to the brand new model. A happy ending. Dan is worried now though at the way he acted: he wasn’t content to benefit from the properties innate to the computer he’d chosen: he just wanted the newest thing. Will it always be this way? Will Dan always chase the new toy, like a donkey chasing a never-acquirable carrot?
To overcome this, there are things you need to recognise:
1. You do not want these things. Advertising has made you want them.
2. “This will save me money” or “This does cool things” are not real thoughts: they are rationalisations. You can overcome them.
3. Newspapers and TV are full of adverts, malicious ‘product placement’ and consumer journalism. Go on a media diet and be happy.
I watched a television programme with my parents last week called How to be Frugal or somesuch. It was a very wrong-headed programme, advising people to self-deny; to cut back on food, holidays and other pleasure-providing things; to work harder; to make pathetically tiny cutbacks; to look after the pennies.
It’s this sort of thing that puts people off frugality. Frugality is not miserliness. One old lady (a self-proclaimed “business grandma” who has proudly not stopped working in her inconsequential office job despite being twelve-hundred years old) tells us to recycle washing-up gloves by cutting them up into rubber bands. I can’t imagine these rubber bands being very effective. Why do you even need rubber bands?
Business Grandma takes us around a supermarket, finding offers on expired yogurt and three-for-two megadeals. It’s a very depressing five-minutes of television. Is this why she’s worked for the last sixty years? Did she tolerate WW2 so that she could live like this?
The real way to save money is not to ‘save’ it at all but to spend it wisely. Spend moderate to large amounts of money on good-quality things that matter. Have a wardrobe of expensive, top-quality, tailored clothes that will last forever. Spend money on excellent food and wine in shops and restaurants. Most importantly, you can spend it on travel tickets: the finest thing money can buy is mobility. Stop wanting iMacs and mortgages and penis extentions and other things that don’t matter.
How it Is
A trip to London to see Miroslaw Balka’s “How It Is” at the Tate’s Turbine Hall. It is a giant, metal box of darkness, which gallery visitors can enter via a ramp and explore. There’s a sense of trepidation as you watch the other visitors ascend the ramp and vanish into an emptiness as black as the monoliths from 2001. I comfort myself with the notion that “it’s just like Lazer Quest,” as I recall a similar sense of trepidation at my tenth birthday bash.
It is a fun exhibition, but the experience of being engulfed by darkness wasn’t as exciting as I thought it would be. I had worried that the anonymity would make me steal a wallet or commit an horrendous sex crime but (thankfully) the box wasn’t dark enough to free me in such a way.
After the exhibition, we went to visit my London tailor who was having a launch party for his new shop. Using a tailor is another example of how frugality doesn’t have to be miserly. For £500, you can have a beautiful and custom-made suit that will survive the nuclear holocaust. Buy two and forget about clothes shopping forever.
If you work independently, you can do it with style: tell the world that you love what you do by refusing to dress down. If you work in an office, you can be better dressed than your boss: an impertinence that annoys them to to high heaven.
Buy a suit. Cheaper, better and sexier than an iMac.