Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Coveting thy neighbor's Netbook, iPhone and wardrobe

Sometimes it’s hard not to covet, and other times I feel like I go the other extreme and use anti-materialism as an excuse for being negligent or sloppy. Often I’m not sure where the middle ground is.

As far as coveting, I have gadgety tendencies and find it easy to desire those electronics and office accessories that seem to make life easier. I’m the only person I know – well, not the only person, but the only 40-something semi-professional in Carlisle – who doesn’t have a cell phone that can do more than just call people, and I’m the only serious writer I know who doesn’t have a Netbook. One evening last week, I was feeling covetous and fell into a long contemplation on which I would rather have: an iPhone or a Netbook. With a Netbook, I could write and have web access even when I was away from my home office. Currently I have a little Alphasmart, which is a portable word processor that can store a few files and then sync up to my computer. This is enough to enable me to draft documents when I’m away from home; it’s just that the small screen prevents me from doing much revising.

Then I thought about the iPhone. With an iPhone, I could email or look things up on the web from anywhere, though that wouldn’t expand my portable writing options much. I covet both; I couldn’t decide which would help me more in the long run.

But after spending a couple of hours not only thinking about iPhones and Netbooks but even doing some online “window shopping” (screen shopping?), I woke up the next day thinking I didn’t really need either one that much. The fact is, I can write when I’m away from home – whether at Starbucks for the afternoon or on a weekend getaway or even in the car while Rick is driving – on my Alphasmart, and I’m not convinced that having constant portable access to email, Twitter or other internet functions would actually be a good thing for me. Sometimes, walking away from my desktop computer and over to where other activities are going on – such as where the kids are playing, or into the kitchen where I should be preparing dinner – is the most effective way for me to switch my concentration away from work and on to other equally important things. With portable email, I fear I’d be one of those people who Never Stops Checking, and the fact is, I’m not someone who gets constant emails or tweets or instant messages. Maybe having more access to email would only serve to underscore the occasional sense that I’m not in very high demand.

I covet electronics, and I also covet clothes. It seems everything I own right now is at least four years old and doesn’t fit me very well anymore; and yet now that I work from home and hang in not-very-fashion-conscious social circles, I can’t justify to myself the need to buy more clothes, or accessories, or jewelry. So instead I try to affirm the positive value of being minimalist; I tell myself not acquiring a lot is a positive thing; it’s good to be light on one’s feet and not carry a lot of clutter on one’s person or in one’s household.

At the same time, it’s possible to be too minimalist. I feel a certain disdain for people who find it too easy to disregard style, in terms of their clothing or their home. The world is, after all, full of beautiful things for the body and the home; to appreciate them is part of cultivating an aesthetic sense. I admire those people whose beautifully decorated homes reflect not the message that they can afford to buy a lot but that they possess inherent artistic style. It’s easy for me to say “Oh, I’m a minimalist, I do well with clean lines and a lot of open space in my home rather than a lot of knickknacks,” but the reality is that I’m not very good at choosing things for my home, even things that might enhance those clean lines and sunny spaces. Sometimes it seems to me it’s almost too easy to be anti-materialist; it becomes an excuse for not even trying to appreciate things of aesthetic value.

So for today, I’m writing on my portable word processor at the indoor pool while the kids swim, unable to indulge in the distraction of checking email or Twitter. Back home, my bedroom is, at the moment, neat but not overly accessorized. My clothes for today are very plain but clean and undamaged. I’ll just tell myself that I’m doing fine, in my minimalist way, and leave the tabletop candles, the trendy jewelry and the newest seasonal fashions -- along with the latest electronics -- to those who can pull them off in a way that I don’t seem able to do.

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