Content note: Money, and shiny personal electronics which may be unattainable for many readers.
So, I mentioned that alias-pseudonym got us a Kobo Aura while we vacationed with it. It's a gorgeous e-reader that lets us get books from Kobo's Canadian store, and we've picked out a long wish list of political / educational books to try to get up-to-date.
Alias has been kind of unreasonably generous to us in the past year, though. In under twelve months we've gotten a refurb MacBook, an iPod, a Vita, a PS TV and a capture card, a replacement of basically every part in our MacBook after we destroyed it by accident, and now an eReader.
You'd think we'd be happy about all this, but instead we feel very guilty. And after going over finances for supporting us later this year, we're starting to ask just how much of this lifestyle is sustainable.
Growing up as a nerd with no money
We grew up not having a lot, but wanting the electronics that we read about. In books at the library, in Sears catalogs, in store displays, in games and computer and science magazines ... they were our windows onto a magical world.
We quickly learned that devices could be our friends, and also that complicated boardgames were more interesting than normal ones. We hugged our old stylus-based PDA like it was our favourite plushie.
Nowadays, we look at people's anime shelves, Warhammer collections, or even gaming PCs, and it kind of inspires us. We collect pictures of people's collections.
It's just, now that there are fewer limits to what we can get, we a) get more than we can use, and b) feel bad about what we have sometimes. And about being materialistic.
It used to be that we'd read about a game like Sid Meier's Civilization and it would be years before we could play it. Winning a year's worth of video game rentals was amazing. >///> As was going through garage sale castoffs, or store discount bins, and finding rare treasures like Atari Jaguars. Which we could sometimes even persuade mom to get for us.
So this scarcity mindset, that we got from (sometimes literally) scavenging through people's garbage, is part of the reason we have a huge backlog of books and games. We make pages-long wish lists of things that look interesting, the way eight-year-old us did while reading the catalog. And then when the Steam Winter Sale or a PSN Flash Sale comes around, we have to grab all the things since this may be our only chance to try them!!!
And alias-pseudonym plays along since it loves spoiling us. ^^;;; And doesn't have to pay for our day-to-day expenses right now.
I don't think there's anything wrong with shopping for things that you like. People make fun of "mindless consumerism," but shopping feels like doing the work of survival, like being a hunter-gatherer. The problem isn't "Affluenza," or "kids looking for instant gratification," it's that American society has decided that this is the best thing ever and wages literal wars so we can have cheap oil and bananas. And that other first-world countries do the same thing, to a greater or lesser extent.
It's not an individual problem, and it's not going to be solved by individual actions. Having said that, I'm not looking for ways to cure sick societies. I'm just doing some soul-searching ... asking myself how much of what feels like greed comes from marketing, and how much of my shame comes from my religious upbringing. And what a "sustainable" lifestyle would look like, at least on Alias' pay.
I think the first thing I'm trying to do is be more selective about what I let in my life. Each of the devices I have isn't just a tool or a comfort object, it's a storefront that makes it really easy to spend too much money. Making wish lists is fun, but I'm trying to limit myself by only getting new things when I'm finished with something else. Or when I'm sure it's an app that I'll use every day.
As far as having all these devices goes, that's maybe just something I need to feel better about. We averaged the costs, and getting a new MacBook every four years plus a new iPod every three years is only like $40 CAD a month. We don't watch TV (except YouTube and Crunchyroll) and we're getting a basic phone just for emergencies, so we also have fewer expenses than other people to worry about. Compared to our food budget, or even train fare, it's incredibly cheap.
The Vita feels kind of extravagant when we already have an iPod, but we like the games much more and have gotten a ton of use out of it. Meanwhile, the capture card and PS TV have helped bring our long-distance family closer together by letting us stream games on Twitch. They and the eReader should all last us years, and they let us play localized Japanese games and read Canadian-market books ... both things which are very important to us.
Also, you can load fanfic onto an eReader. It's true!
Two more things
We take good care of our electronics (the Orange Juice Incident is the only time we've destroyed a laptop), and we regularly sell or give away stuff we don't use anymore. Our PS3 now sits in thatnerdlord's apartment, while all of our previous phones and game consoles have found new owners on eBay. (Well, except for the $10 Obamaphone we haven't yet donated.)
Finally, in being more selective about what we get we've been finding new things that we like much better than heavily-marketed games, and that we really want to support. Like the webcomic Goodbye to Halos, an amazing adventure that stars a cute trans girl who gets to kiss furries. Or the Endless Fantasy Tactics miniatures game, which was made by a trans woman and is basically a tabletop version of Final Fantasy Tactics. Meanwhile, basically all of our money from selling our PSP went to support BubbleSort Zines 2.0.
There are so many Kickstarters and Patreons, you guys. >_>; And so many things which deserve to exist, even more than Nintendo's new console does. (Fun fact: Ruling out 'games with white male protagonists,' 'games which glorify gun violence,' and 'games where you murder indigenous people' makes almost all AAA games invisible.)
We're okay with getting fewer things, if the ones that we have make us feel better about ourself and our place in the world. And we're okay with Alias buying us electronics, or with saving up for expensive devices, if they last us a long time and delight us the entire way.