You are what you recommend…?

At #cnmac10 James Poulter shared a presentation about renting his life.  The theological point behind it was that as we live in a ‘recommendation economy’ we are well placed to connect with people and show who we are via the things we share. James kindly commented on my other blog to clarify this.

However, I am still not convinced and I’m going to try to explain this here, without getting too ranty.

Streetcar allows people to use a car by the hour, saving the need to own & pay for a car full-time. There are companies that allow you to rent a status handbag (not one that James mentioned, this is just another example). We can share music via Spotify; our lives via Facebook and rate our snacks via Graze. All good, right? We get to use items we’d never be able to afford – renting a BMW for a couple of hours instead of owning a P-reg Vauxhall Corsa with an interesting clonking noise.

Except… the point where I disagree is that by renting the status item, we buy in to the consumer society. If we define ourselves by the things we consume, what does that mean for our identity as a child of God? If we are seen with the status item, what does that say about our counter-culturalism as Christians? The man-on-the-street may not know that we have rented our BMW so by being seen to be conspicuously consuming are we really giving a good message? I think the message it sends is that our feet are firmly placed in the earthly realm.

My problem with the fractional ownership trend is that it allows people to literally buy into a dream that life is better if you have nicer ‘stuff.’ No matter that you can’t actually afford that ‘stuff.’ You can still experience it, pretend for a bit that you can, show the world ‘what you are worth’ by your stuff, not by what you do or say.

And on the back of that comes the problems with the impact we have on the planet. Streetcar is great; and I may have signed up to the scheme had I stayed in London after 2006. But, you know, London has fantastic public transport – is that extra car journey really necessary? If you buy or rent new; what about the energy costs of producing new instead of using second-hand? A £3 box of snacks instead of locally-grown bits and pieces, or a home-made cake?  I generally don’t spend £3 in total on what I’d eat during the day so I find that really expensive.

I’m not even going to start on the advertising, the polarisation of gender stereotypes, the pseudoscience, the PR-puff recommendations in the print media, the relentless quest for youthfulness. I hadn’t watched TV ads for some months and was really surprised at the utter rubbishness thrown at us (One ad keeps telling me signs of aging are caused by daylight. So I am never going out again.)

OK … so I haven’t quite managed to not rant here, or perhaps untangle my thoughts even after sitting on this for a week.

One comment

  1. I think to an extent the whole of the social networking system is a ‘recommendation economy’ – we follow links that other people post and we follow the people others recommend.

    This is the nature of networks but it carries some risks, the major ones IMO being we start to think that number of recommendations (eg how many Twitter followers we have, or how many ‘likes’ our Facebook page gets) equates to how influential a person or group is. That is dangerous for all sorts of reasons, a lot of them to do with how our resources are directed, but also because it promotes a kind of passivity – if I follow these influential Christians I don’t have to do any networking of my own. And networking can only happen between people (or organisations) who are active participants.

    This is probably only tangentially linked to the content of James’ talk on the day, but the issues around status which arise from that talk are highly relevant to how we behave as Christians online. We have a huge opportunity to make relational connections with people, it’s easy to kid ourselves that we are doing something innovative simply by being online.

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