I am not going to purchase anything in the next 3 months.
The only exception will be supermarket-brand food.
I recognize that I am only able to do this for 2 reasons:
- My unique circumstances. I am barely 5 days out of college, and have no commitments. I have been fortunate enough to have shelter, running water, and been provided for my whole life.
- The unique circumstances of the current free digital economy. I have also just splurged on a mobile internet contract with Clear. Unlimited internet anywhere (anywhere meaning, as always, the metropolises of the continental united states). The wealth of free services I use is incredible — without purchasing anything, I will be living at a much higher standard than I could with paid services 5 years ago*.
Buying what we want is not inherently a problem. If one can afford it, one should buy whatever they want. However, addiction to the purchasing product is detrimental. An example accross America is that the amount of plastic items (“junk”) in one’s yard is an inverse function of one’s income.
The only addictions I think are non-detrimental are ones linked to food and water. Positive feedback loops make us addicted to food. The magazines cry: Carbs are more addicting than cocaine. Frankly, that’s a great thing - of all things to be addicted to, we should be addicted to the core source of energy that fuels our existence. We should desire food, because food has the function of fueling our existence.
In my case, my healthy addiction to food became linked at a young age with product. This is the first branded product I ever wanted:
Kindergarten was the first year that my peers and I actually began owning things, and no matter who you were the thing that everyone had was snacks for snack time. Of course, I didn’t have the branded snack. My parents are green/hippies/socially-concious so my food was generic organic.This was the first time I strongly desired something for more than its actual function. I wanted the Nabisco Handi-Snacks because they were Nabisco Handi-Snacks, not because they were carbs & fat. And I wasn’t the only one. Non-branded food had essentially 0 value when trading. I could trade an entire apple to get one Ritz Bitz cracker. I would regularly trade an entire apple for one Ritz Bitz cracker. Form had won over function.
Pogs - A cultural phenomenon of the late 90s
This Kindergarten market economy was more than just a barter economy: we had Pogs as our currency. Pogs were essentially the Kindergartner’s Bitcoin (I just discovered what Bitcoin is, and sounds to me like today’s Pogs: http://www.weusecoins.com/). I don’t think i ever found out where to buy Pogs — they could only be accrued from trading. We never even played the game associated with the culture — like most lowest echelons in societies, because they were valuable to someone (in our case, the older kids), they were valuable to us. As Kindergartners, the game was probably too complicated for us anyway. Currencies see their value fluctuate over a period of time and finally became obsolete. Pogs followed that same trajectory, but at a massively accelerated pace. By second grade, my shoebox of Pogs was useless. I feel the same way when I discover old French Francs. Looking back at dead currencies makes you wonder “why could I ever want that?”. Currencies are almost purely form (except for US pennies, which apparently cost more to produce than the $0.01 they are worth).
This is just an experiment. Form and function have become married in today’s world - in the case of Kleenex or Xerox the product’s name has become synonymous with its function. What we need and what we want have become intertwined. As humans, we have biological needs, and therefore need things that match those functional programs. But do we really need the form? I am going to start it all at Zero to see what I really need. I’m assuming all I need is food, shelter, water, and the hygienic material your average college kid has. And electricity*.
What I actually want to spend currency on:
Changing the world. Maybe that will take the form of funding awesome projects on Kickstarter.com, maybe if I have the necessary wealth it will be investing in promising avenues in clean tech/ biotech . And it definitely will include splurging on branded products again. But I hope that after this experiment, I will be able to do so not like a crack addict hunting down his next score, but responsibly and deliberately, like a cyclist enjoying the luxury of the view after a long ride.
Really, Why I am doing this?
As a startup founder, I would definitely benefit by being able to have this type of maniacal control on how you spend.
Also, I’ve been influenced by many individuals about this project. My friend Sean Frazier has been doing a similar “experiment” for the last few months, working at a sustainable farm that is powered only by human and animal work, leaving the lightest footprint on this planet. Likewise, I’ve been influenced by the sustainable living practices at Magic in Palo Alto, CA: http://www.ecomagic.org/
And if you don’t think your lifestyle matters: http://www.myfootprint.org/ . Take the test. It’s sobering. Very, very sobering.
*Free Services I use via web:
Evernote — note taking + word processing
Netflix — films
hulu + youtube + vimeo : video content other than films
Music: Pandora, Hypem, Turntable.fm : music . If you are not familiar with turntable.fm, visit. Its like having a miniature version of Pacha/Reina/Showcase/[ insert club name ] bundled right into your browser, minus the stains and smells. And unfortunately, minus the actual human beings. Fortunately, their avatars are cuter than your average human.
Huff Po, Hacker News, Techcrunch — newspapers
Google Books — Books. Google has every book that is in the public domain. That’s the entire works of every author older than Fitzgerald. I don’t know about you, but that’s enough reading material for me.
Social: facebook, gchat
Calendar: Google Calendar
Education: All my Princeton CS courses put their material online on sites like this http://www.cs.princeton.edu/courses/archive/spr11/cos333/topics.html. Other universities do the same, and I epsecially enjoy lectures from MIT/Standford on iTunes U @ . Also see TED, and all the tech blogs in the world
Actually, that’s pretty much all I use regularly. I thought there were more!
Note: I used to watch Tron as a kid, and the current state of the high tech economy is like the world of Tron spilling out into the real world. It’s so cool to see things straight from Sci-Fi that you imagined as a kid suddenly emerging. Asimov totally described a spoken word note-taking iPhone app in the first Foundation novel.
Thanks to Sean Frazier and Siofra Robinson for reading drafts of this.