Human history is a study in innovation and technological advancements. The Industrial Revolution, which galvanized Europe in the later half of the eighteenth century, heralded the modern age, and created the world that we know today.
The Industrial Revolution changed the world and human society in a fundamental way. However, it was hardly the first such paradigm shift spearheaded by innovation and new technology in the history of humanity.
From Nomadic Hunters to Settled Farmers
Thousands of years ago, our hunter-gatherer ancestors discovered agriculture. This fundamentally changed the way humans lived. Nomadic tribes were replaced by permanent settlements such as villages and towns.
With the production of surplus food through plowing and irrigation, population increased exponentially. The elite, land-owning classes spawned a system of centralized governance and thus the feudal system was born. Cattle were reared by farmers, which in turn provided an extra source of food and labor. Humanity prospered.
The Dark Side of Progress
We often see human history as a straight line, beginning in the primitive and ending in progress. However, this was not always the case, and humans paid a hefty price for the luxury of surplus food and permanent housing.
Hunter gatherer tribes worked only a few hours a week to hunt large mammals, gather fruits and other edible parts of trees, etc. The population was small, so killing one or two large mammals would provide sustenance for the whole tribe for a few days at least. After this task was complete, not much remained to be done, and the tribesmen enjoyed a period of leisure.
This changed with the advent of agriculture. With surplus food, the population increased. The extra food also needed to be stored safely, so that the risk of theft and spoilage could be minimized. Guards needed to be employed to protect the warehouses wherein food grains were stored.
Animals needed to be domesticated to plow the fields and then these domestic cattle too needed to be fed, cared for, and protected. The more we had, the more we needed to work to maintain the lifestyle we had now become accustomed to.
The Luxury Trap
Humans are strange creatures. We strive constantly for betterment. But once we have what we want, we get used to it quickly and can barely imagine life without it.
Think about electricity, motor vehicles, indoor plumbing, mobile phones, air conditioning, or any of the luxuries that we now consider an essential part of life. And yet, our ancestors survived without any of these things for centuries and millennia.
Last decade’s luxury is today’s necessity, and what our parents might have considered an expensive nice-to-have, we consider a must-have that we cannot live without.
And just like our hunter-gatherer ancestors who became accustomed to the abundance of agricultural production, we are in thrall to the conveniences of modern life, and pay a hefty price for our addiction.
A Castle Built on Debt and Desperation
“There are thousands and thousands of people out there leading lives of quiet, screaming desperation, working at jobs they hate to buy things they don’t need to impress people they don’t like.”
― Nigel Marsh
Less than a generation ago, smartphones were a luxury. Now, we must have one to be a functioning member of society. Once we have a smartphone, we must have a high-speed Internet connection, a plethora of apps which we may or may not need, a cool back-cover, a screenguard, and a million other things that drain our wallets and which wouldn’t be needed if not for that smartphone.
All of this has us trapped on the never-ending hamster-wheel of working more so that we can earn more so that we can spend more on things that’re supposed to make our lives easier. And yet, more often than not, they just make our lives more cluttered, confusing, and exhausting.
We go into massive debt to buy a large house wherein we can spend quality time with our family, and then proceed to spend the next twenty years working frantically at stressful jobs to pay off that home loan, which in turn leaves us with little time to actually be with our family members.
Is a large house really a home if you only see your loved ones before they wake up in the morning or after they have gone to bed at night? Is the sacrifice worth it?
Escaping the Hamster Wheel of Meaningless Consumption
With the consumerist culture at a peak and advertisements constantly bombarding us from all directions, escaping the luxury trap isn’t easy. But it can be done.
Some things you can do to gain control over your time and your finances have been listed below.
- Prioritize: Make a list of all the products and commodities you use in your daily life, which you think you can do without. Then divide them into two categories – things that bring you a lot of joy and satisfaction, and things that are mere accessories and not very rewarding.
For instance, if you love listening to music but only play video games a couple of times a month, then you can get rid of the Gameboy but keep your iPod or music player. Make the opposite trade-off if you are an avid gamer but not a huge music lover. The key is to prioritize and then de-clutter, getting rid of the unnecessary excess.
- Set a Goal: Giving up on luxuries is hard, especially once we become used to them. But it’s easier if you have a concrete goal in mind. So set a goal that is important to you. For instance, you can promise yourself that you’ll live frugally until all your debt has been paid off, or until you have a few lakhs in your retirement fund.
You can also set aside money for your children’s education, a big vacation, an emergency fund, or the seed capital that will enable you to leave your job and start a business. Anything, in short, that will motivate you to take the actions necessary to get out of the luxury trap.
- Ignore: The best minds of the generation are designing algorithms, codes, and marketing campaigns to lure you into spending money on things you don’t need (and probably don’t even really want). Ignoring the constant barrage of advertisements and marketing isn’t easy, but it is possible. Download plugins like adblocker to minimize the amount of advertisements you are exposed to online, and avoid buying celebrity magazines and lifestyle journals geared towards making you want to spend money on luxuries.
But most importantly, we all need to internalize the fact that we are not defined by the things we own, nor is our worth dependent on the size of our car or the square footage of our home. We are whoever we choose to be.
So, now that you know all about the insidious 21st century luxury trap that has ensnared us all, tell us how you plan to get out of it. What are the things you are willing to give up, and what luxuries, in your opinion, make life more fun and enjoyable, and are worth the price? We’d love to have your perspective on the issue, so let us know your opinions in the comments below!