Journal, October 8, 2023

Comparison is the thief of joy.

Capitalism is a strange beast.  Consider, if you will, that everything around you was once somebody's daydream.  You wake up in the morning to the sound of your alarm clock.  Somebody made that sound and licensed it - they collect royalties on its use.  The alarm clock (your phone, probably) is a product dreamed up by a company and its collective employees.  You get out of bed.  Your bed?  That's a product.  Your pillows, sheets, and blankets?  Products.  Your clothes?  You guessed it - products.  We're surrounded by them.  All around us, we're encumbered with and enamored by the tangible representations of someone else's daydreams.

In order to get these products into your life, someone needs not just a daydream, but a demographic.  Advertising agencies buy and sell demographic information to tailor and target what they sell to the audiences they deem most likely to buy.  Everything we do these days is tracked, bought, and sold to countless vendors for profit.  You're an individual, to be fair - your friends, family, coworkers, and extended social circle certainly recognize you for your uniqueness.  Yet, to the companies set on selling you products, you're naught but a collection of data points calculating the likelihood that you'll buy a given product if you're force-fed advertising across any number of different media.  What do you watch?  Where do you go?  What do you do on the internet?  Who do you call?  What do you buy?  Who are you connected to?  What is your age, gender, income level, sexual orientation, and social status?  These questions and more calculate how likely you are to be receptive to a given product and marketing scheme.

Interestingly, if you fall into the trap, it's a fairly continuous spiral.  Say you purchase some shoes.  Well, turns out you like shoes, so you know what else you could buy?  More shoes.  Like games?  How about more games?  Are you interested in technology?  Gosh, there's a whole world of technology out there to sell you.  And you know what's even more interesting?  There's not just one type of thing, oh no.  There's different tiers of the same thing.  Different manufacturers of the same thing.  Different levels, different features, and even subtly different nuance in functionality is out there, if only you fall into the appropriate demographic to be likely to buy the thing.

"Sure," you say, "but brand x is more reliable than y."  Unsurprisingly, many competing brands are owned by the same parent company.  This illusion of false choice is all part of the marketing game.  You, the savvy consumer, do your research.  You read reviews, watch videos, surf forums, look at comments, and check products out in stores.  Soandso describes the product using these words, other users decribe that other product with different words.  These emotionally charged vignettes help to shape your perspective on a given product until, at last, you make the right choice.  Brand x got your money today, because that brand y is full of problems.  You fell for it, of course.  The marketing worked.  You're a demographic that's most likely to buy, and the avenues available to the advertising agency led you down the buying path.  All that savvy research was just willingly consumed marketing.  What made you want the thing, anyway?  The answer should come as no surprise.

I recently found myself trapped in a strange marketing spiral.  I like making music.  It feels good.  Not only do I like making music, I like recording that music.  When it's recorded, I can share it with others.  Wouldn't you know, there's a whole wealth of products out there to help you record music.  Microphones, preamps, equalizers, compressors, converters, audio interfaces, studio monitors, headphones, digital audio workstations, plugins, and more.  All of these products are marketed on the basis of comparison.  What you have is old and busted, and what you could buy, well, that's the new hotness.  This new insert-product-here is better for any number of inextricable reasons, mind you.  Upgrading one's signal chain grants so many etherial acoustic properties.  Brand x has mojo, brand y is silky, yet another brand is creamy, velvety, and smooth.  If I didn't know any better, I'd think I was shopping for dessert.  Not one to ignore confirmation bias, I'd find myself surfing reviews and forums looking for stories from people who use these products.  What do they say about them?  Is it all just a bunch of hype?  All these boutique products are just copies of old electric circuits that were used on records people liked from back in the day.  How they justify the sticker price is beyond me - the electrical circuits are painfully simple to recreate.  Perhaps these products are creamy and silky enough to double as dessert?  Transformers and tubes seem more crunchy than creamy, at any rate.

What kills me, and what drives this brain dump, is the crux of this entire circumstance.  At times I find myself window shopping more than I spend creating.  It's like some strange drive to research, to learn, to absorb all information I can find about a given thing until that insatiable thirst for knowledge reaches a breaking point.  What I have is not inadequte, by any means.  I'd go as far as to say I'm decently well set up for what I want to do.  Why keep striving for even greater things?  It is the carpenter, not the tools, that build the house.  I have a daydream, and I'm blessed to have appropriate tools to work towards that dream.  My circumstance doesn't inhibit me from reaching towards that dream; in reality, that circumstance serves to propel me towards it.

Anyway, in considering all this, one thing stuck out to me: the grass is always greener when you don't water your lawn.