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Monday, January 3, 2011

Progress vs consumerism

Merry Consumas!
(cc) khaybe,

Especially as a person gets older and they see their incomes go up while their free time goes down, it becomes more and more tempting to simply buy things for people for the holidays. With online shopping it's become even easier, and many people are now getting gift cards. Between those two, gift selection has become little more than a few clicks of a mouse and a deduction from the bank account - and it feels about as meaningless. Many people want something media-related, such as movies, music, and the like and these kinds of products are becoming more virtual and easier to obtain and transfer, making the process all the more shallow. This is not only an issue when it comes to problems with consumption, but also with the real meaning and value of a time where giving and sharing something real is important.

But this past holiday season my wife and I made some progress in our aim to make things less focused on consumerism, which I was happy about. We both gave more presents that came from things we made ourselves, and spent our own time on, rather than bought purely in stores. As an artist, I painted some pictures and my wife made baked goods.

But we still have a ways to go. We still bought several things from stores, bought online, and gave some gift cards. When asked for our wish lists by friends and family, we also asked for purchased media and other goods. So now that we're at the start of a new year, I'm looking ahead at birthdays and next winter solstice and trying to plan things out. After all, the issue has not been so much about money as it has been about the much more scarce resource: time. Therefore, it seems to me the really meaningful gifts are those that involve giving of that more precious commodity. This can take the form of making things for others, or of spending that quality time directly with them.

But how do we tell people, "No, I'm not going to give you that season of your favorite TV show you've told me you wanted"? And, when they ask us what we want, how do we tell them, "Don't get me anything you're going to simply buy"?

This year, when I gave my dad a picture I had painted of his beloved dog, he doted over it and really seemed to appreciate it far more than any gift card or store bought item I'd ever gotten him. So that answered for me the first question. Even if people tell you what they want, they'll more appreciate something they can't simply go buy themselves. As for the second question, it might help them to ask for something specific like, "I'd like to spend an afternoon with you" or "I'd like one of those scrapbooks you like to make".

Of course, time being what it is, we're likely to see less gifts exchanging hands, but I think that's ok. None of this is really about stuff we need. Oh one last thing - if you have kids, instead of asking them, "what do you want for Christmas?" how about, "What are you going to do for your friends and family for Christmas this year?"

My hope is to eventually transition to some specific sets of personal rules whereby I do not give gifts unless they are something I put time and thought into, and perhaps some other rules of thumb to make gift giving occasions more meaningful.

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