Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Luxury or necessity?

Here's a fun little poll to play with and ponder during the resolution season. Chris at AmericaBlog came across this Pew Research Center survey from two years ago that asks which everyday consumer products are luxuries and which are necessities. The items on the list are:
  • Cable or Satellite TV
  • Car
  • Car Air Conditioning
  • Cell Phone
  • Clothes Dryer
  • Clothes Washer
  • Dishwasher
  • Flatscreen TV
  • High Speed Internet
  • Home Air Conditioning
  • Home Computer
  • I Pod
  • Microwave Oven
  • TV

I've alphabetized the list to randomize it a bit. Glancing over it, you'll see that some items are dependent on others; you're not likely to have air conditioning in your car if you don't have a car or to have cable unless you have a TV (unless you're using it for your internet connection).

For me there's nothing on the list that I couldn't live without, and I have, in fact, lived without every item on the list at one time or another in my life. I currently do not have a cell phone, home air conditioning, flatscreen TV, iPod, or dishwasher. I lived without a car until I was 42 (that's not a big deal in a city with decent mass transit, but it's quite an accomplishment in most of the West). Even though I live in the middle of Seattle, I've only had a high speed connection for a short while (the connectivity in my neighborhood is terrible). Since I use the computer both for work and play, a computer with some kind of connectivity is probably the only really indispensable thing on the list. After that, either a car or a washing machine is important. Having neither and hauling your laundry on the bus to the nearest laundromat really sucks (though I have done that).

A few of the others, while not necessities, are good ideas if you can afford them. A good washing machine, dishwasher, or microwave can be a lot more energy efficient that the manual alternatives. They're also genuine time saving devices. I've considered dropping my land line for a cell phone just to eliminate the solicitations and robocalls. In Seattle, there are only about ten days out of the year when I could really use air conditioning, so there is no way I could justify a complete system, but I have considered getting a tiny portable unit to cool the bedroom enough so I can sleep during those ten days (I don't sleep and become very cranky during those days, so people around me might consider it a necessity). Among the rest, beyond the things I already don't have, the ones I could give up the easiest would be the clothes dryer and TV.

Of course, when you get right down to it, the only "real" necessities are food and shelter. But who wants to live by hiding in a hole in the ground and sneaking out at night to steal turnips from the farmer down the road? So, how enslaved are you by your gadgets?

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