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Why Owning Stuff Doesn't Matter

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h1 You need as much ballast as possible to stop you from floating away ... I've got more stuff, more clutter, more detail in here, because at the moment I am in danger of falling off the edge.

Nick Hornby, High Fidelity

Remember the days before the terms “cyber-bullying” and “sexting” mainstreamed their way into our daily lives, giving media pundits and “concerned parents everywhere” yet another platform for sanctimonious outrage? The days when everyone was a latchkey kid, which was fine because you got to blast the latest Nirvana CD on your newly acquired boombox without pissing off your parents.

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Yes, things have changed. Two decades ago, your average young adult lusted after things. Things to own, collect and treasure. Things that would tell the outside world who you were, what you were into, and who you wanted to become. A collection of CDs were not only expensive, but demonstrated persistence, passion, and cultural credibility on behalf of its owner. Print magazines were hoarded and displayed as emblems of personal identification and aspiration. A first car, a first house. All of these things became, and still are, very outward representations of how we perceive ourselves and how we want to be perceived.

Now let’s fast forward to the dawn of the iGeneration. Sure, these post-millenial tweens still WANT things (e.g., iPad, iPod, iPhone), but those things are merely conduits of a greater demand: access. This newest generation, replete with Bieber fever, is detaching itself from an inherited sense of ownership to an almost pure consumption model. It’s no longer, “hey, wanna come over and check out my CD collection?” but instead “hey, wanna come over and stream music on my mom’s iPad?”

The pride of possession and sense of identification that an album/book/movie collection used to give has been supplanted by the ease of access and availability that Internet services provide. But this paradigm transcends mere media consumption habits and traverses into all areas of life. From Zipcar to AirBnB, people are slowly letting go of the reigns of ownership in favor of a social, access-driven share model that satisfies demand.

What’s becoming increasingly clear is that this generation of children is placing a higher value on the consumption experience rather than the amassing of goods. Their value is placed on the interface, the ability to access, share, discuss and move on. As this generation grows up and longs for their more innocent days, physical goods will take on special meaning. The fetishization of good and lasting craftsmanship will only become more prominent.

As we collectively wake up to the fact that our constant need to accrue things – homes, cars, electronics…stuff – has led us to live beyond our means, we may find that we have a thing or two to learn from our kids. Place value on the experience and know when its time to own.

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