This is a media-based conversation that I’ve engaged Kim Burk in on facebook. I thought it particularly apropos to my cultural criticism blog…
“In all of these self-deprivation experiments, there comes a moment when self-denial becomes self-defeating. An Internet entrepreneur from San Diego named Dave Bruno has received a lot of back pats for his “100 Thing Challenge,” a goal to limit his possessions to that magic number. It’s a useful thought experiment, but do shoes count as one thing, or should each shoe count as a separate item? The point—how much crap do you really need?—can quickly get lost in the details. Ascetics often become distracted by the rules or take things too far. Consider the fervent subculture of people who try to live plastic-free lives. Another perfectly worthy goal, but then you stumble upon advice like this on the blog PlasticLess.com: “Get a Vasectomy: Children are the target market for pointless plastic stuff. Most temporary forms of birth control involve some plastic packaging.” (Uh, okay.)
I don’t mean to throw cold water on earnest self-improvement. But maybe we should set about such tasks in a way that doesn’t reek of personal branding. Thoreau, after all, left the cabin behind, which earned the respect of Robert Louis Stevenson: “When he had enough of that kind of life, he showed the same simplicity in giving it up as in beginning it. There are some who could have done one, but, vanity forbidding, not the other; and that is perhaps the story of hermits; but Thoreau made no fetish of his own example.” While that doesn’t mean not writing a book, it may mean not letting the rigor of your experiment get in the way of the lessons.”
But, in our current social and cultural climate, fetishizing becomes a grand motivator. What better way to accomplish your “100 things” goal than to be held accountable by the entire internet, which is populated by figures beyond our imagination…
I’m not defending it, cause I know what you mean. But personal betterment has become less about the person and more about that which it says about the person. Less important than the manifest of having less stuff is the latent statement of breaking the bonds of an over invested culture.
While it was not Thoreau’s implication to become a mediated individual, isn’t that what makes his message so powerful? If nobody knew about it, we wouldn’t talk about it. Further, by saying “Well Thoreau didn’t need a pat on the back” aren’t we undermining his goal in not doing it for media attention? Perhaps this is the best example of the essence of late capitalism, which effortlessly produces and appropriates the possibilities of all of its internal critiques.
But we could also consider it in terms of not really being about the Internet. We, I, assume that he is posting this on the internet as a way of saying what he’s sending a message as part of a late capitalism culture. Maybe he’s transcended this idea? Maybe he’s doing it to teach others how he believes one could live- a religious statement per chance?
Actions speak louder than words, but if a tree falls in the woods does it make a sound?
It will be interesting to see how Kim replies. She’s absolutely brilliant, and I always enjoy talking with her…see this conversation: