Constant Consumption

Monday, January 27th, 2014 by asobol

I found many of Crary’s claims dubious, hyperbolic. All this doom and gloom about the possibility of the sleepless consumer, née sleepless soldier. Can one even be a consumer all day long? I tried it for a day to see how my body handled it. I tried being a conscious consumer of everything, which meant physically buying things at a store as well as subjecting myself to the internet and various media intake. I tried to limit sleep (more accurately: to put it off as long as my body could handle it) and see what would occur over the course the day. Running around stores became exhausting and annoying and eventually I could no longer remember any potential desires I may have had coming in. Why am in this store to begin with? The longer I spend in the store, the more I begin to resent it, the less I want to spend money there. 

When I returned home, I propped all my devices around me. Laptop on lap. Phone on the left, Kindle on the right. Television on. As this continued, numbness came over me. I could only provide attention to one thing at a time. The TV would eventually get lost to my browsing. The browsing interrupted at times by TV. At a certain point the night, TV became mostly infomercials, prompting me to ask why I even had it on anymore. My attempts to continue to consume on the internet was a wash once I ran out of ideas. I have a limited set of interests and while I can look scan Amazon and eBay for a long time, I eventually exhaust them. Boredom was constantly resurfacing. Even shorts bursts onto Twitter or Facebook left me with nothing to chew on. The later it became, the less interested I was in the things I was searching for. What remained was this zombie-like clicking through. It ended when I realized I was searching Amazon for pillows and linens — a cue from the unconscious to go to bed, perhaps? The next morning, perhaps coincidentally, I woke with a nasty cold, which with its migraine-like sinus pain, made looking at screens a painful chore, making me into a terrible consumer.

My roundabout point being that the attention span is finite. And even if we didn’t have to sleep, how long could things really keep us invested, especially 24/7. There’s only so much stimuli before we need to reset. I can only stare so long at a screen before my eyes begin to sting. I can only buy so many consumable objects before I have my fill. In the abstract, sure, capitalism may be insatiable but people (body and mind) are not.


Stray question: Anyone else feel Crary is guilty of Tyler Durdenisms? I mean, the entire last paragraph of chapter two feels like (with the exception of a certain charm or charisma) it would fit straight into Brad Pitt’s mouth:

Even in the absence of any direct compulsion, we choose to do what we are told to do, we allow the management of our bodies, our ideas, our entertainment, and all our imaginary needs to be externally imposed. We buy productions that have been recommended to us through the monitoring of our electronic lives, and then we voluntarily leave feedback for others about what we have purchased. We are the compliant subject who submits to all manner of biometric and surveillance intrusion, and who ingests toxic food and water and lives near nuclear reactors without complaint. The absolute abdication of responsibility for living is indicated by the titles of the many bestselling guides that tell us, with a grim fatality, the 1,000 movies to see before we die, the 100 tourist destinations to visit before we die, the 500 books to read before we die.

Yikes. (I don’t think I’m entirely off-base comparing the two, especially given that Durden was born out of a character’s lack of sleep.)


2 comments on “Constant Consumption

  1. sdileonardi says:

    Kudos to your experiment, and the Fight Club connection is dead-on. I was just thinking about your criticism of Crary’s argument and how it seems like he is just as concerned with the active screen time and media consumption that you faced for a day as he is the more surreptitious, harder-to-nail-down influences of our digitized reality. I wonder how our interactions with the world that we assume to be real, genuine, and “natural” are actually governed by the influences of a technological profundity. For example, how are our relationships with other humans actually affected by the models presented to us in fictional shows? Might I be a constant consumer of media even when I seek love and attention from others? I hate to think so, but like Tyler Durden says, “the things you own end up owning you.”

  2. Lori Emerson says:

    Hi Adrian, I’m sorry to say that I don’t know what it means to be guilty of a Tyler Durdenism! But still, I’m fascinated with your post – especially since your experiment actually somewhat corresponds to my daily life! I may not be buying things constantly, but I do find myself spending a terrifyingly lot of time staring passively or interacting passively with my digital devices. Still, your point about our limits fits perfectly, in my mind, with Crary’s general thesis – using sleep as a proxy for all kinds of things.

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