I don't value physical things any more. That's not entirely true. I value water, air, land, plants and animals, food, my computer, and my car, but that's about it. Most other physical objects don't feel significant at all. I just have too much stuff already. My room is filled with clothes I don't need, books I don't read, and art that isn't hanging on my walls.
This is even true for gifts from other people: a beautiful tea light candle holder, a ceremonial dagger, a children's book written by a friend's father. These things matter to me more because they symbolize very particular relationships. But even these objects sometimes seem tainted by the feeling that they are more things filling up my space.
There's something sad about this. A part of it, certainly, is that consumerism is a generally shallow, unfulfilling, and destructive habit. But there’s something else too, something particularly grief worthy about losing out on real significance being embodied in matter, rather than where we often place value now: in experiences or in data.
For example, I can imagine a time when someone would have given me a gift, say a knife, candle, or book, and that material object would have been rare or difficult to make. Just as now, it would have had utilitarian value and symbolic emotional value, but in additon in would have the value of its physical rarity. And because of this I would have loved it differently than I love these things now. Specifically I would have loved it with my hands. I would have received it in my fingers and I would have used it with my skin and my body. It would play the same function in my life that these objects do now, but its functionality would have been tied much more to its solidity and concrete presence.
The material abundance that has come out of industrialism is a kind of triumph, but it has made things too easy to come by. Rarity is socially manufactured more often than physically authentic. For example, diamonds aren’t rare at all. DeBeers hoards its diamonds to keep the market artificially scarce and advertises to consumers that diamonds are a symbol of class, wealth, and special moments in order to keep prices high. But strangely, since there's all kinds of subcultures of rarity, even rarity isn't rare. I don’t care about diamonds, but I do care about that historical anarchist zine that there are only a few hundred copies of, but not many other people care about that.
Industrialism makes the wrong things to easy to come by too. When you're out in the woods, you’re surrounded by trees, and grasses, and rocks, but you don't feel like the trees and grasses and rocks are oppressively filling up your space. It more feels like they ARE the space. Part of the reason may be because they have a spatial and psychological significance which is not lessened by their abundance. They fit together well because they grew together well. Another reason may be because they are alive and so feel other than us, like they are their own people. Most of our material things are US though. They are our things. To me, being surrounded by too much of myself just feels boringly familiar.
The reduction of the sacrality of matter because it’s no longer rare is just the beginning though. The same thing is happening now even with information. There's almost too much of it. Knowledge, insight, stories, reflections, commentary, pictures. There's too much, and it's too US. It's filling our mind space in the same way that industrial products fill our physical space. In the same way that I’m unimpressed by material things, I am also becoming unimpressed by information. It’s worse than that actually, I’m not just unimpressed, but jaded, like the apathy that can come with wealth or privilege.
In the age of abundance, what's sacred? I don't know. Maybe in the future when everything we want is easy to come by things will just be better and we won't miss that sacred feeling of appreciating something deeply because it’s rare. Maybe play will be sacred, because that’s all that’s left to do. And that will be wonderful. Then, depth will be replaced by lightheartedness and ease. But I don’t know. There still feels like there’s something sad in this. What do you think? Do you miss the material things being special in some way?