The other day, as I walked home, I passed a closed down Blockbusters store. It was big - a building that must have once housed hundreds of thousands of VHS tapes.
I noticed a small piece of graffiti on one of the windows. It read 'we will be OKAY.'
Isn't it strange how one thing can send your thoughts spiraling?
Seeing those hopeful words juxtaposed against the dereliction of that building pushed me down a rabbit hole of thoughts. I have no idea who wrote it, or why, or if it was meant to be philosophical in any way. It made me think about the ways in which physical items, and our relationship with them, is changing.
I am just about old enough to have grown up during the final years of bulky technology when no Friday night was complete without a trip to Blockbusters.
A film camera took my baby photos. I watched VHS tapes of hand-animated Disney films at preschool. I listened to cassette tapes, then mini disks and then CDs throughout primary school. I remember dropping my phone out of a third story building and not quite scratching it. I grew up in tangent to the internet, my maturation in parallel with its.
As easy as it is to glamorize and grow nostalgic for those days, I also remember the shortcomings. There are no pictures of me as a newborn because there was no film in the camera. I recall the struggle of having to rewind The Lion King before I could settle down to my once a week cry-fest over it. Oh, and I had to drop my phone out of that window 4 more times before it broke (I wanted a new one.) I climbed a lot of stairs that day.
Lately, I have been thinking a lot about what the future of minimalism is. Or rather, the future of physical possessions and our relationship with them. In my opinion, we are moving towards a future in which owning less is more accepted, if not expected. Here are some thoughts on why.
On an obvious level, more and more items people used to own are disappearing.
The landscape of physical possessions has changed a lot so far in my lifetime. It is set to change in ways I cannot even imagine in the years ahead. This fascinates me. Think of all the things technology has made obsolete over the last decade or so. Think of all the clutter that a tiny phone can now replace.
I have no doubt that we will little by little phase out certain items, relegating them to annoyances, then affectations, then nostalgia, then history. It just makes sense and it is silly to get sad about it. The physical items are not what matters, it is their ability to improve and shape our lives which is valuable.
Evidence shows that my generation tends to focus on experiences over possessions. Whilst people used to want stability, now it is all about flexibility and freedom. When I think of my future, I get excited about the idea of traveling the world and working freelance. A white picket fence house with a mortgage, a car and heaps of belongings do not fit into that picture.
We are moving from a culture of ownership to one of access.
A new focus on sharing, renting, giving and selling has emerged. This is how people lived in the distant past, except now it is organized and systematized. Think about it:
- We stay in a stranger's home while on holiday.
- We get our furniture on Freecycle, then pass it on to someone else.
- We buy a book on Amazon, then sell it after reading.
- We ride home in a different stranger's car, no license required.
- We access whatever film, song or story we want at the click of a button, without the need for our own bulky library.
As a result of this, old paradigms and invisible scripts are becoming irrelevant.
What this sort of access takes away, is an emotional tie to physical items and a sense that they reflect who we are. Our relationship to stuff we use but do not own, is quite a strange one.
When you buy a pair of jeans, a subconscious choice about which brand and design best reflect your self-concept occurs. When you borrow a pair from a friend, all that matters is that they fit (sort of) and are clean (sort of.)
When you buy a laptop, it has to be tailored to your every need. Yet when you are in the campus library, any unoccupied broken old thing will do. Items which are an impermanent part of our lives can be kept separate from our identities. That is important because minimalism is more about shifting your attitude than it is about decluttering.
Back to that Blockbusters store, and the graffiti on the window. It's tempting to view this newly minimal future as something terrible, something destructive, something which is ruining the world.
It's not. People felt that way about most of the stuff which is now being phased out when it first appeared.
Telephones were seen as inferior to face-to-face conversations. Now we regard making a call as the authentic alternative to texting.
Books were considered a weak cousin to thinking. Now we consider them to be the purest, the most intellectual way of learning- much better than those damned Kindles. Need I continue?
As scary as this change can seem, we will be OKAY. The future looks minimal and I'm excited about that.