Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Buying and making the invisible and insubstantial

I maintain that on the internet, small or very very big are the only two things that you can be. Small confers advantages, one of those advantages concerns the invisible.
In 1992 I read a review of a book soon to be published, I pre-ordered an import and spent the most I have ever spent on an individual book (about £100.) This book inspired me back to university for a second degree, I also tried to get a scholarship to work with the author out in the dessert in New Mexico. Nearly twenty years later the life I lead is unrelated to the two inch tome on my bookshelf. I am unlikely to ever read it again yet it's an object that's very valuable to me.
2lb 10oz of paper and ink mean a great deal to me, full of meaning that is loosely related to its substance. There is an invisible dimension that now out-weighs the physical. It seems most things around us have this insubstantial quality attached.
Now getting around to the point of the blog, though you do personally build up this aura of meaning over time, a purchase often comes with some invisible pre-installed. The experience of the shop, who was with you at the time or how friendly or quirky the assistant; are also taken away in the bag with your purchase. My question for you (please do comment) is does dealing over the internet inevitably strip your new lamp or hat of this intangible feeling?
If you buy from an anonymous catalogue online I'd argue that yes, absolutely you are going to receive a naked commodity and you're not going to benefit from any extra meaning attached to your purchase.
As a side note I have heard Rory Sutherland (an advertising guru) state that we want to buy and sell these invisible feelings because this is economic activity that doesn't consume the planet:
you basically have two choices. You can either live in a world which is poorer, which people in general don't like. Or you can live in a world where actually intangible value constitutes a greater part of overall value, that actually intangible value, in many ways is a very, very fine substitute for using up labor or limited resources in the creation of things.

PS The book on my shelf is called 'The origins of order' by Stuart Kauffman and is in a discipline I recently heard described as mathematical biology with the following joke:
A man arrives at a shepherd with his flock and proposes 'If I can tell you how many sheep in your flock will you give me one?'
The shepherd agrees, 'Aye go on then.'
'Yep, you're right' the shepherd agrees and the man picks up an animal, '...wait if I can guess what job you do I can 'ave her back?' 
'Ok, what job do I do?'
'You're a mathematical biologist' 
'Remarkable, yes. How did you know?'
'You picked up my dog.'

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