This weekend I was getting nostalgic with my siblings over the days when we all shared a computer. We were teenagers and my brother and I in particular both wanted to use the computer for games and the internet frequently. My brother used tactics of annoyances where he would make strange sounds, then switch to another strange sound as he pretended to “jump” on me and rest his chin on the top of his hands, with his palms resting on the top of my head. We had to negotiate peace treaties in the early days to limit use to one hours at a time. This was downright political.
It didn’t change until my sister moved out, getting her own computer of course, and my brother went away for a four-month co-op term in Ottawa and bought his own computer to bring with him. When he brought the computer back, with a laptop from the 1990s that he got for something like $25 because the place he worked was getting rid of obsolete equipment, we finally had our own domains to rule over. This was a very important development. Much of my life was starting to revolve on the internet back before everyone else’s did and this nearly sole ownership swept almost all of the conflict away.
After that having individual computers for ourselves was taken for granted. We could afford it, because we were generously supported through university in both tuition and no living costs while we worked our part time jobs. When my brother went back to school in environmental design he required a Mac laptop on top of the same computer he bought for his internship. Years later when I went back to school I “required” a laptop to bring to class (this turned out to not at all be a requirement but I brought it anyway because my fast writing is shit and my fast typing is bloody amazing) so I also had a second computer. My sister got an iPad a while back. My brother has an iPod Touch and now we all have smart phones. Between the three of us siblings we effectively have ten frickin computers half of which we can take around with us wherever we go. The ten computers speaks of the degree of material consumption. The five portable ones (this is excluding laptops) speaks of the degree of conspicuous consumption to levels that even its original theorist Thorstein Veblen couldn’t imagine.
My mother never wanted a cell phone, and still doesn’t have one, but she does have a giant Mac desktop for pretty much nothing but e-mail and card games, and for her recent birthday she got the iPad she asked for, for pretty much nothing but e-mail and Angry Birds. My dad has his own laptop, fair enough, and he has a Blackberry that is at least provided to him for mostly work reasons. Nevermind that for the three of us full-time workers we all have office computers dedicated to our own work, with access to personal e-mail and weather and news when we are taking brief breaks from work tasks or have spare moments here and there. My cousin’s girlfriend has somewhat of a nomadic lifestyle, perpetually en route as a flight attendant with a boyfriend in another country, but she keeps in contact with her friends both in her native state of California and her current home of Chicago all the time – she is hardly seen not on her phone whenever I’m around her spare mid-sentence eye contact and cuddliness with my cousin. It’s astonishing and almost sickening on so many levels.
The first desktop computer my family bought in 1992 cost around $3000 in that year’s dollars (at least around $4000 at this time, assuming a steady 1.5% inflation). It had a 500MB hard drive. My smart phone came with roughly 4GB already inside, with a slot for a Micro SD card. Over the weekend I bought a 16GB (32x the hard drive of a 1992 $3000 computer) for $15. Quantity, quality, and even more quantity upon that, has progressed ridiculously far – and so has our consumption thereof.
It doesn’t seem out of place to have this much. Take a step back and ponder that for a while. Wrap your head around it, and maybe you’ll come across the thought that you own multiple thinking machines, and outside of that pondering head.