Saturday, September 18, 2010

Meadowlark and Stuff

A few days ago, I drove past a company called "Meadowlark Storage." I immediately thought of Meadowlark Lemon of the Harlem Globetrotters. Although I watched a few Globetrotters games as a kid (on ABC's Wide World of Sports), Wikipedia tells me that Meadowlark left the team when I was two years old, meaning I never would have seen him play. So how did I come to draw this associatoin? Perhaps it was through his animated guest appearance on Scooby Doo, but most likely, I think it was because when I was a kid I had some Harlem Globetrotters trading cards. Google tells me they most likely from the 1971 Cocoa Puffs cereal set. How I came to acquire them, I don't completely know, and I have no idea what became of them. All I know is that I had them for a few years, and sometimes I would look at them. But I didn't have an emotional attachment to them, and if a bully would have beat me up and taken them, I don't think I would have even cried.

George Carlin famously satirized our attachement to "stuff," ("That's all your house is: a place to keep your stuff"), and it's clear that the attachment begins in childhood. Yet it's a bit amazing that very little of our childhood stuff, no matter how integral to our lives then, remains our stuff through adulthood. There is a cliche that "you can't take it with you," but this is almost literally true long before a person dies. One would think that the shredding of our initial collection of stuff would be habit forming, that we would become accustomed to the transience of stuff, but for some reason we can never seem to shake the conviction that what we own is important.

I do think there are differences in the way that a child perceives stuff and the way an adult does. Consider the rise of digital media, and the accompanying cultural shift in attitudes toward scarcity. When I was younger, music CDs (like vinyl records before this) had to be guarded vigilintly. Should they be thieved, you would have to labor a couple hours at McDonald's to earn enough to replace it. Kids nowadays can just thieve it back in a matter of seconds on-line. Also when I was younger, I had a few VHS tapes full of episodes of my favorite programs. No need to do that anymore when you can find a torrent, or put it on your Netflix que, or locate it on Hulu.

But though this particular digital trend is new, I think the underlying phenomenon is not. As we age, we develop such an awareness of the sheer amount of stuff available, that it diminishes our perception of the importance of our collections. On the other hand, the younger we are the more circumscribed our existence, and therefore we are more likely to regard our stuff as valuable. There is some irony in this. We tend to think of materialistic people as those who are always seeking to acquire more, but they at least recognize that their current holdings are lacking. Could it be even more materialistic to be so content with your existing material that you don't even ask for more?

But in making moral judgments, there is one more factor to consider. Even though I didn't have an emotional investment in my Harlem Globetrotters cards, I did look at them. By contrast, when I was in college, I got a set of Marquette University basketball cards as a give-away. Like the Globetrotter cards, I have no idea what became of them. But I remember having them in my dorm room for awhile, and I also remember that I never looked at them. When I was a kid, every book that I owned was read more than once. Now I have many books that I have never read at all. When I bought a magazine at the grocery store, I would read every article. Now if I get a magazine I'm lucky to read a fourth of it. The more limited our purview, the more impressionable we are, and the more we pay attention to our environs. But if I first received a pack of Globetrotters cards today, and I were to drive past Meadowlark Storage tomorrow, I doubt that I think twice.

I have some other thoughts, but I'm going to have to cut them short. My son is getting into my stuff.


Blogger Dbert said...

Interesting commentary Azor

10:07 PM  

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