Why do we need things?
Csikszentmihalyi compares artifacts to living beings that compete with humans for the planet’s resources. This similarity is illustrated by how both undergo an evolution process and become more and more complex over time, building and improving upon previous iterations.
He then says that humans mostly need objects not to satisfy their physical needs but their psychological needs. He links human dependence on objects to the unstable nature of the human mind. When the mind is left to itself without any sensory stimuli, it wanders, becomes anxious and the person’s mood deteriorates. Physical objects around us provide structure and sensory input that helps the mind stay focused and organized. Also, it is difficult for the mind to remember experiences in the past, what are the plans for the future, and ultimately, the person’s sense of self becomes lost in the randomness of the wandering mind. Objects provide a material anchor to these experiences and to one’s own identity. There are 3 ways the objects help their owner to shape their identity:
- They can demonstrate power
- Houses, cars, furniture and anything that is rare, expensive or tasteful
- Because people’s sense of identity is vague, and often formed by how others perceive them, it feels good to display things and receive praise for owning them.
- Objects that help to organize one’s own identity
- For young people, it is often stereo / TV set, and a musical instrument. These provided ordered sensory stimulation and help to feel focused and to concretize feelings
- For adults, it is often furtniture, objects of art and books, as they represent their values and accomplishments.
- For old people these objects are photos, because they help remember their past vividly and recall details that would have otherwise be forgotten.
- Objects can represent relationships
- Photographs, gifts from relatives, objects that remind of experiences with family and friends, symbols and tokens of friendship
Csikszentmihalyi notes that the objects of power are the most expensive in terms of labor and cost for the planet’s ecosystem. The objects that represent relationships typically are very inexpensive. So the kind of selves that people build affects our planet. He also says that if we learn to discipline our mind ourselves, our need to rely on objects will diminish. This can be achieved by rich symbolic culture: songs, prayers, rituals, crafts.
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