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Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Whitman news since 1896

Whitman Wire

Our Dirty Habit

Whitman students like expensive things. Does this surprise you? Oh yes, we partake in our fair share of consumerism even here at Whitman where we like to dress in an anti-consumerist self image just as much as our designer clothes and pricey outdoor gear.

We may be overly conscious of which brands we buy, but that’s not to say that buying a brand name product is always a superficial act. I often find that it’s quite worth it to shell out large chunks of my hard-earned cash for an over-priced brand name product. If I’m careful in selecting which brands to trust, I get longer lasting, higher quality products for my money, even if I have to part with a bit more of it than I would otherwise. I’d rather pay more than I should for a product that will last than have to buy two because they wear out.

The same goes for flashiness in general. It’s not just brand names that superficially attract us to products we don’t need.

Last year, while on the Whitman cycling team, I seriously considered investing in an expensive road bike when I already had a more modest one. I managed to convince myself that a more expensive, showy bike was worth a large fraction of my summer earnings. As it turned out, I never had time to train, consequently sucked, and never even used my original bike to its full potential.

So when are you paying for quality that’s actually usable, and when are you paying for flashiness or for that little brand name or logo that you can show off to your friends? This question is hard to answer because you don’t want to recognize your own preoccupation with flashiness. You like that brand name or logo more than you care to admit.

To really be honest with yourself, you need to separate utility from novelty. I had an epiphany maybe five years ago when I was reading a review of a CamelBak backpack in a magazine. If you’ve never seen one of these before, it’s a backpack with a plastic water pouch inside and a tube, allowing the wearer to drink hands-free.

At first, it seems pretty useful. That is, until you think, “Hmm, what situations are there where I need constant hydration but can’t use a water bottle?” Unless you’re an extreme mountain biker or you do something else so extreme that it’s not even occurred to me, you’ll never find yourself in such a situation.

So, an overwhelming majority of CamelBak purchases are made as a product of fascination with novelty. Utility aside, it’s quite exhilarating to drink water from a tube, just like it would have been exhilarating for me to buy that shiny, new, unnecessary bike.

But, as anyone who’s made a purchase like that knows, such a feeling of exhilaration fades. Once that high is gone, your flashy product is really useless.

Despite the fleeting nature of this feeling, we love it so much that we’re willing to spend a lot of our money to keep it up. This disappoints me. We should be using our money to help others rather than spending it on flashy products that we don’t need.

Seth Bergeson, a globally conscious individual, says, “Sometimes, I can’t help but think of people’s excessive purchases in terms of how many wells in Cambodia they could support with that money: a well there costs $100.”

That’s inexpensive compared to the Orbea bicycles and Anthropologie shirts that Whitties routinely lay down large sums of cash for.

So, the next time you get that itch that can only be satisfied by an unnecessarily expensive purchase, consider the actual utility of whatever you’re about to buy. If you find your attraction to it composed mostly of fascination with its novelty, go buy a well in Cambodia.

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