food for thought, Uncategorized

PPFF #157: Diderot

Good morning,

I came across this article about the history of so-called ‘jaywalking’, an American-invented traffic offence, committed by pedestrians traversing streets outside designated crossing locations (fascinating topic), and as a result I wasted my precious few minutes, before I eventually ended up learning about the ‘Diderot effect’.

I know. It’s very 1990s. It was a thing then apparently, to discuss Diderot effect, which I must have missed. So I’m catching up; the term is named after Denis Diderot, French philosopher, coined by a Canadian author Grant McCracken, who wrote extensively on (over)consumption/consumerism. The story goes; Diderot was poor all his life, but one day he won the lottery (not really but it’s a long story – so, read up in your own time if you want to find out what actually happened), and he now had access to better things. First, he bought a new scarlet robe, which he loved. He loved it so much that he noticed everything else in his possession looked rather shabby in comparison, and he decided that there was ‘no unity’ any more among the things he owned. Just like the rest of us, he didn’t want to downgrade. So off he went ‘in search of material unity’, to replace everything in his abode to match the beauty of the robe. This is the Diderot effect (actually there’s more to the definition than this but I have a day job. So, apologies but read up).

To be honest, if you asked me (no one did), I wouldn’t say we were ever desperate for a pretentious name for this behaviour. It seems quite natural to me that one would prefer materially harmonised/coordinated sets of things (although having names/labels in general is a quick and convenient way to call someone out on something). Before I go, I would add, it doesn’t seem to be confined to material possessions only. I almost feel like we extend this behaviour to circumstances and people too (e.g. you buy a very smart looking suit for your partner. He/she looks ridiculous in it. You get a new partner to go with the suit etc.). Anyhow, think that one over.

Have a good Friday