⭐ vinyl records and the diderot effect

2023 Sep 10

I bought my friend a vinyl record today. I don't own a record player myself, but I love buying him records. There's something indescribably fun about sifting through albums; picking out lucky finds; holding a physical manifestation of music with scratches, warps, and pops, unique scars from years of use; and perhaps my favorite part, gently coercing someone to listen to my favorite artists. Every time I go visit his place one of the first things I do is pick out a record from his collection, place it gingerly on the turntable, and sit down in front of it, mesmerized, as it spins around and around under the needle.

My friend today asked me why I don't buy myself a vinyl player and start my own collection. It's a good question, considering how much I like vinyl; I've considered it a few times, but the thought of doing so always fills me with dread and anxiety. There are so many things I wouldn't enjoy: picking out the right setup, dealing with buyer's remorse, finding the time, money, and space to amass a good collection, and needing to move it all when I relocate. As someone with serious hoarding tendencies, I have seen firsthand how acquiring more things only succeeds in making us less happy, not more happy as we imagine it will.

There's this quote floating around in my head that goes something along the lines of, "not wanting something is as good as having it." Some would argue (myself included) that not desiring something is even better than possessing it. I was looking for the exact phrasing on the interwebs when I discovered that there's a name for this chain reaction I fear post-purchase: the Diderot effect. As James puts it, the Diderot effect as the phenomenon in which "obtaining a new possession creates a spiral of consumption which leads you to acquire more new things."

I think my compulsion to buy things stems from several sources, many of which affect everyone, like advertising, boredom, the "enjoyment" of browsing, and the desire to define myself through my possessions. But when I pay more attention to how I feel as I purchase things, I feel pushed by a vengeful desire to spend as a way to compensate for how much I suffer at work. While I can understand why I feel this way, it makes me sad how counterproductive this "revenge buying" is, like its cousin revenge bedtime procrastination. Buying more things will only worsen my dependence on the paycheck I get from work. The only way out of this trap is to buy and own less.

Learning about things like the Diderot effect and reading about how to live a more minimalist lifestyle gives me conflicting feelings. I'm happy I've starting to see the light and notice the reasons why I perpetually acquire more material possessions, but I feel stressed (and sometimes hopeless) when I take stock of my surroundings and realize how far I have to go. Most of my friends would describe me as not particularly materialistic, and I don't think I go shopping all that often either. Every year I beg people not to buy me birthday or Christmas gifts (seriously, please do not get me more things). And despite all this, I still have so many things. More than I can even count. I have enough shirts to clothe a village. I own many devices and toys I haven't used in years. And the worst part is I'm still acquiring more, hard as I try to stop! Living minimally feels like a lost cause. The GI Joe fallacy is so real: knowing is not even close to half the battle! There is so much more work to be done.

When viewed in this light, my habit of buying my friend vinyl seems less generous. Am I using this as a way to satisfy my own itch for shopping while offloading the burden of ownership to my friend? I'm reminded of Noa Goffer drawing her wishlist to satisfy her materialistic urges.

Noa found herself reflecting on her desires, looking deeper into the constant urge we have to accumulate: “It’s interesting and perhaps a little disturbing to understand how much of what we want to have is a way to define and distinguish ourselves from another,” Noa says. And soon, Noa realised that researching, choosing items, clicking ‘add to cart’, “almost felt as gratifying as actually making the purchase”.

For me, the process of sifting through records, picking one out, and walking out the door with it is perhaps even more gratifying than actually owning the record itself. And maybe that's all my hollow affinity for vinyl really is: a poorly disguised addiction to consumption. And my oh my is that a doozy of a realization to wrap my head around. (Also, hi—if any of the recipients of my material gifts (or otherwise) are reading this and think my efforts could be better spent elsewhere, please do let me know! I promise I won't be offended.)

thank you for reading; write to me at yourstiramisu 🐌 proton dot me

#anticonsumerism #english #minimalism