Back in the day - even five years ago - a TV was a thing to care for, like a car. I still have my first, it's shaped like a microwave and has a 17-inch screen but it works well and it was a big deal when I bought it. We keep it sandwiched between the couch and the wall where it's used as a coffee table and only pulled out for movie night when it's perched on a kitchen chair plugged into an extension cord three feet from where we're sitting. My friends laugh at it - they all have flat screens they absolutely couldn't live without - though they did for decades. While there are times I want one, when savvy marketing makes me believe my life is incomplete without a 40 inch flat screen, the closest I come is when I park it on the couch in the home theatre section at the Squamish London Drugs to watch BBC's nature documentary, Earth .
Luxury has invaded North America with the persistence of an invasive species. No longer is it confined to the lifestyles of the rich - even people who have a hard time paying rent find ways to finance these necessities. TVs, laptops, cell phones - most folks have one - more likely all - of the above. Sure, computers and phones are necessary to navigate our personal and professional landscapes, but yearly upgrades based on colour and cuteness are not. The result of our inability to distinguish between need and want has turned us into the most debt-ridden, financially disassociated generation to grace this planet. As a bonus we create more toxic, unrecycled e-waste than we'll ever be able to recover. I recently cleaned out a rental property in Nelson and found five TVs, two printers, three phones, two fans, a computer monitor and three stereos. Everything worked - it was just left behind for not being en vogue .
Depending on how you cut it, our ability to purchase merchandise that strikes our fancy represents a flattening out of amenity-based social stratification, but it also highlights a problem: 10 or 20 years ago if someone had nice stuff it was likely because they had worked hard, saved up and paid for it. But we want what our parent's generation has - right now. We forget that they lived in outdated houses with second-hand furniture and shitty TVs, even if we lived there with them.
My parents and their friends in Victoria drove old cars and shared hand-me-downs among their kids. Most moms carried wads of coupons jammed into their enormous wallets and they weren't afraid to use them, no matter how many people were waiting behind them in line. And after putting us to bed they refinished kitchen cupboards and beat up floors, drank wine out of boxes and took us on wild vacations to Hornby Island and Mt. Washington in a rusted out family van. During those winter trips we skied all day to make sure we got the most out of our passes and we always ate in - soggy sandwiches from a massive fanny pack for lunch and barrack-style spaghetti dinners at night.
What's interesting - and somewhat sad for today's generations - is that from the relative comfort of new retirement in houses that they've finally managed to upgrade, the generation that raised us looks back with fondness on the chaos of their earlier, penny-pinching lives. They are bewildered by our immediacy, stymied by the need to be a have when being a have-not was such an adventure. Sure, they made financial mistakes (unfixed mortgages in the 1980s - good times) and spent money unwisely at times, but they had their hierarchy of needs prioritized. Our schools were good and our cars shitty.
When I was 15, I spent a year on exchange in Oaxaca in southern Mexico. My parents came for a visit and we flew to Puerto Escondito - then still a small seaside village. At that age, even from Mexico I was conscious of the big yellow VW van my mom drove at home - the same age as me, it had rust spots that resembled bullet holes and a muffler that you could hear from blocks away. I remember thinking it was time my parents grew up and became more upstanding members of our neighbourhood so I asked them why they didn't get rid of it and buy something better (looking).
From the wide veranda of our hotel room overlooking the warm Pacific ocean my Dad smiled at my mom, who I realize now looked relieved I still had five months left of the exchange. "Well Sus, if we did that, we wouldn't be doing this," he said, closing the topic.
That van lasted another five years - long enough for me to get my license and do some really bad teenage driving until it gave out on the highway outside of Rossland for good.
I still don't have a nice TV - I feel guilty for even thinking of getting rid of my old one. I won't say I haven't been tempted but I'm pretty sure that getting everything now takes the fun out of later.