I confess; I don’t care that much about the quality of the sound my electronics produce. As proof, I’ll just point out that when we bought our Honda mini-van, I was amazed at how good the stock sound system was. At home, we have an old ten-year-old TV and I haven’t seen much need to spend money on a sound system for it (or even get a new TV), so the surround-sound system that came with car impressed me. So, today as I watched people discuss headphones that retail for $100 to $600, I was a little taken aback. I’m just not used to making large purchases (where “large” is anything more than $75) for personal entertainment. Dropping a few hundred on my monitor was a big stretch for me. I was happy to do it, but I had to change my mindset a little. (Don’t let me fool you, though. I tend to be a spendthrift — historically I’ve not been very good at managing my money. I just don’t buy $600 headphones.) Anyway, this being Lent (still, for us Orthodox, but “Happy Easter” to the rest of you), I started think about this when I read what Fr Stephen wrote in his blog post titled The Passion to Consume:
To be fully human does not include becoming a passive receptacle to marketing forces … few ages have lived as we do now in which the passions are actively used as a means to maintain the very affluence of the culture.
A day or two later, as if to illustrate the point pefectly, I came across this quote in a Wired profile of Apple and Steve Jobs:
No other company has proven as adept at giving customers what they want before they know they want it.
This sort of thinking has become habitual for us. What new thing can I desire today? And this is why spiritual askesis like fasting is so important. By fasting from particular foods, I become more concious of the food I do eat. How much am I eating? Why am I eating? In the same way, I can limit my indulgence in TV and I start asking “Why am I watching this? How much have I watched?’ But any attempt to remain free of desire, to abstain, is completely counter-cultural. We often see it as an unnatural act. Why put an in-human effort into being uncomfortable? You can even see this in the discussion of Wikipedia’s Asceticism page that I linked to. Instead of seeing Asceticism as the self-empowering act that it is, people think it is self-destructive and anti-human. Indulgence has become our natural state. Any exercise of will-power is ridiculed. And we wonder why America has an obesity crisis.