Signifiers Disappear

First they came for your watch.

Next they’re coming for your car.

Used to be he who died with the most toys won.

Now, ownership is passe, everything’s on demand.

I first realized this fifteen years ago, when I noticed Jimmy Iovine had the same Nokia phone, a tiny blue stub of a device, it was the best available, you couldn’t get one with a longer range or a better sound, functionality was king and decoration was irrelevant, we were equals.

We’re all equals today.

For those of you buying an expensive car as a status symbol… Do it now, because in ten years you won’t even own a car. And that Ferrari? The Tesla outperforms it, at least in straight line acceleration. Turns out gasoline is no match for electricity. But before long, transportation will be an on demand item. Not only will the car drive itself, it’ll show up at your doorstep when you need to go somewhere. And the evaporation of a need for parking lots, and parking spaces is hard to wrap one’s head around, can you imagine a kid asking why a house has a garage fifty years from now? But you’re gonna lose your ability to stand out based on your possessions.

As for those watches… Your phone tells more accurate time. They’re just jewelry. And Swiss sales are off, the manufacturers are buying up inventory to maintain prices, the wristwatch is going to be marginalized, at least that which is not computerized. And what we know about computers is they become commodities, like phones, the best is within the reach of almost all of us.

George Carlin did a whole routine on stuff.

Is anybody gonna even own any stuff in the future?

Your record collection, vinyl and CD. You can hold on to it, people still collect stamps, although that’s a dying art with plunging prices, but it’s a hobby, music is something that arrives with the flick of a digital switch, like movies, via Netflix.

The rich will not be that much better than the rest of us.

Sure, they can own bigger homes. But people are returning to cities for the access, they like the action, the opportunities, the offerings. So sprawling suburban mansions? There’s gonna be a fire sale. As for vacation home ownership? It’s kind of like skis. Most people rent them, sales have declined dramatically, because when you factor in transportation costs, you’re better off hiring the latest and the greatest each time you go.

We’ve all got the same iPhones and Samsungs. There’s no $2000 model, never mind $10,000 model. And our lives are centered around our mobile devices, and what is virtually inside is more valuable than what is externally available.

That’s right, your social network means more than anything you own at home. As for food, delivery is making inroads in a world where so many have given up cooking anyway.

So, it all comes down to your virtual world and experiences. Those who are selling experiences will triumph tomorrow. It’s going to be who you know, where you’ve been and what you’ve done. Probably documented online, but it won’t be about physical trophies.

We won’t be able to tell someone is rich just by looking at them. Maybe they’ll have the best seat in the restaurant, maybe they’ll be able to get a reservation at the restaurant, but they won’t drive up in a Rolls Royce or BMW strutting their stuff.

We’re gonna become more equal.

This is hard to fathom if you’ve got nothing, you’re looking for creature comforts, items to make you feel good.

And this is hard to fathom if you’re rich, trying to feel better about yourself by working endlessly to acquire items that set you apart.

Of course, the rich will still have access to that which the poor do not. But it used to be a goal to own your own plane, most people now just rent ’em, they might call them fractional ownership programs, but the truth is your jet is delivered on demand, and you’ve got no headaches, and if you own your own plane today…it’s a signifier, to show that you’re better than your competitors.

We’re all in it together. We’re collapsing inward, and people don’t like this. The poor hate the immigrants supposedly stealing their jobs and the rich don’t want the poor elbowing in on their opportunities, like access to a first rate education.

So what do you need?

A roof over your head, a screen and someone to love.

That’s about it.

Oh, and a job. So you can partake of experiences. So you have something to do. Work will become about fulfillment more than paying one’s bills.

The times they are a-changin’.

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