10 May 2019

ANU professor: "Stop buying unnecessary shit!"

| Alex Tricolas

That brand new 64 GB iPhone 6S Plus you just picked up on a two year plan may be a whole lot more than just a device to communicate with the world. Like your clothes, your car and any number of things you have bought recently, it may also be a sign of your status anxiety, your desire to define yourself and even your fear of missing out.

Of course, we all need to buy things. After all, we need to eat, we need shelter, and we need to clothe ourselves. But sometimes buying things can become an unhealthy obsession. Professor Mike Kyrios is director of the Research School of Psychology at ANU and also president of the Australian Psychological Society, and he will join a panel of speakers this Wednesday night at The Love of Things to discuss the positives and negatives of the human desire to own stuff, as part of the Fix and Make program run by Hotel Hotel.

An expert in hoarding, compulsive buying and obsessive-compulsive disorders, he has some obvious ideas about the role of possession in normal life as well. He says that our relationship with objects and possessions can be both functional and dysfunctional. “We humans don’t just use possession as an object to nourish and protect ourselves physically, but we also use it to express who we are.”

“You can tell something about a person by what they are wearing, by what they buy,” he says. “A lot of successful brands, while not necessarily more expensive to make or of better quality, promote a certain identity.”

Professor Kyrios is interested in the ways possession plays a major role in how we define ourselves, and more than that, is certain that we are afflicted with a kind of status anxiety that drives our desire to show those possessions off. “Owning things is an expression of who we are. But again at a social level, we’ve now gone too far.”

In his view, this status anxiety is exploited and encouraged by industry to keep us addicted to buying new things as economies have become reliant on our insatiable desire for more and more stuff. He says that there are grave implications for the environment, and for our own emotional wellbeing if we continue down this path.

“Governments and banks are always talking about ‘consumer confidence.’ Who measures happiness? Who measures satisfaction with life? I know governments in Australia certainly don’t. But I think we are seeing a turnaround. I think people are beginning to talk about these issues, and hence, events like this, which are really important for triggering community discussion. We have to make decisions about our world, or it won’t exist in 50 or 100 years.”

The Love of Things
6pm Wednesday February 10
Palace Electric Cinema
Tickets $25 or $15 concession
(includes drink)

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