Have You Got Everything Now For Christmas?

20/12/2012 16:56 GMT | Updated 19/02/2013 10:12 GMT

What are you hoping for this Christmas? A Darth Vader mask, with voice synthesizer promising minutes of fun? One of Jeremy Clarkson's hilarious books or DVDs? Or maybe an electric black pepper grinder to take... well, the grind out of grinding? What ever it is I hope you're not disappointed, even though the odds are you almost certainly will be.

I've spent the past 35 years being disappointed by the non-emergence of the personal jet-pack.

I fell in love one autumn morning in 1976. I was propped up on the sofa at the time, off school with a heavy cold, when I caught a short documentary on ITV about jet packs for schools and colleges.

My breath was taken away by a series of short films of men taking off, briefly soaring away over tree tops - 'at speeds of up to 60 miles an hour' - then landing in a nearby field and breaking into a little jog. The voiceover signed off by telling us that "experts anticipate jet packs will be commercially available within five years".

I was smart enough to know they wouldn't lie to us in an educational programme and I calculated that, even allowing for the fact that dad was not what you'd call an early adopter, this meant that I could reasonably expect to own a jet-pack by Christmas 1983.

I imagined life in this distant future seven years hence. If I wanted to go somewhere I'd just fly: simple as that. The UK's island status would no longer be enough to contain me. I'd soar over forests and mountains, swooping down across the ocean trailing an arm in the water as the setting sunlight bathed me in a golden glow.

Then I realised that I wouldn't be the only one with a jet-pack - all my mates would have one as well. We could fly round Europe in formation having adventures.

Even going to the shops for my mum would become a pleasure rather than a chore. (Actually, the jet-pack shown had seemed a short of luggage space and I suspected dangling my shopping from the handle bars might prove a little impractical. Still, the five years to the commercial launch surely gave 'the experts' plenty of time to crack any storage issues.)

35 years later and another jet-pack-free Christmas is upon me, but this isn't the only way in which the future has failed to live up to expectations. These days we might be able to get everything now, but how much of it is worth having?

Consider the billions of pounds that have been spent over the past few months in an attempt to convince the target market - i.e. us - that our time-poor lives will be improved if we simply make ourselves less cash-rich and purchase this product or that service. The remarkable result is that we all end up spending a fortune on stuff we simply do not need. Statistically, 80 percent of all the items bought by consumers in the UK are used only once, or not at all, and then thrown away.

So why does this happen?

Everything now rewards ignorance. We may well be educating almost half of the population to degree standard, but we have no idea how 99 percent of the stuff we use and rely upon every day - like electricity - actually works. Most of the time we only notice when things have stopped working. We rely on a small number of sources for information and routinely form concrete opinions based on only a tiny amount of information.

It is this behaviour that allows our thinking, decisions and choices to be manipulated and controlled. As the world has become more complex, we have in turn become more ignorant of how it works and functions. Moreover most of us are completely unaware that this knowledge might actually be important. We're very knowledgeable when it comes to the fluctuating weights and fortunes of minor celebrities or Arsenal's chances in the Champions' League, but ask most of us a direct question about how something works - for example, electricity - and we'll flounder like the cast of TOWIE during a game of Trivial Pursuit.

The evidence suggests that this combination makes us remarkably susceptible to persuasion. Just take a look around. Our homes are filled with books we've never read, music we've never listened to, films we've never watched, games we've never played, clothes we never wear, gadgets we never use. Over a third of the food we buy gets thrown away. We have second houses we don't live in, we pay for gyms we never visit, subscribe for services we never take up, upgrade technology when we don't need to and change our cars, computers and redecorate our homes, on average, every three years. All of this has to be paid for. By credit cards, loans or mortgages in the first instance, but ultimately by somebody's hard-earned cash. Yours.

Everything Now keeps us dissatisfied, yet we play a vital and complicit role in ensuring its continuation. Every day we are stage-managed into making superfluous purchases that make our lives neither happier nor easier.

Merry Christmas.

If you enjoyed this article, you'll probably likeEverything Now, also written by Steve McKevitt and published by Route Publishing, priced £8.99.

If you're not sure, you can always download the podcast first A Drink with Steve McKevitt it's free as well

Or visit Steve McKevitt's blog Everything Now Book it's updated occasionally.