I wrote a piece a while back talking about geek culture, and its relationship to consumerism. I feel like I had some good points, but in talking to people since then I feel like there are more terms we need to use to discuss this topic.
What has me thinking of this right now is the X-Box One, which plans on having all of the games in digital format on the system – where you can loan a game to a friend digitally, but not resell it as used. But you also avoid the costs and hassle of the physical object.
How has geek culture responded? In a mixed fashion. I don’t tend to sell back many (any) games, so owning them forever works out for me alright. However, does this just make me a consumer creature? What is going on?
Geek Culture and Consumerism
So first I want to say that consumerism has a bad name. It’s the sort of thing to be avoided, it’s the problem with our society, it’s the first world bleeding the world dry – all sorts of negative connotations when you hear the term consumerism, right?
So of course we feel we have to say “no, geeks aren’t consumers.” Except, to be a geek is to enjoy a cultural artifact, generally in ways above the norm, often with a lot of devotion, often with giving something back to the overall community of said cultural artifact… but really, if you think of what it means to consume something, and as I kind of said in my previous post, yes, geeks consume things, out in the culture, made by others, and if they didn’t, being a geek would be something different.
And I think it’s why geeks are starting to feel a little bit like we’ve become a marketing group, something to sell to. It’s a byproduct. But I would say geeks were buying things before they were being targeted to buy them – aw geez, does that make geeks hipsters too? Going to leave that alone…
Geek Culture and Materialism
There is another term that needs to be part of the conversation, however. Another term that comes with a lot of negative baggage as well: materialism. Materialism is the buying and having of things. Materialism can be described with many of the same bad-opinion phrases I used above.
However, while consumerism and materialism often go hand-in-hand, they are not synonymous. And here we get to the heart of the point I was trying to make. Geeks consume the culture – watch it, read it, play it, share it, blog on it, cosplay it, whatever – but they are involved in the consumption of cultural artifacts. However, they are also a group that might be alright without the materialistic side of consumption.
Think about geeks – they are the sort to, these days, be making the decision to go with Netflix and Hulu instead of buying movies and TV shows. The sort to go to libraries for books. The sort to digitally download movies and TV to watch them, to have Kindles and other readers that they are now getting books on.
Geeks seem to, more and more, be okay with these new and alternative means of consuming the culture. Means where maybe they don’t own the product but are renting or borrowing it, means where they have a lower material impact on the things they consume.
So I guess I am trying to say that the environmental impact – the materials used – side of materialism is a side that geeks could heavily reduce, and still be geeks, and still be consumers. I think also that geeks tend to consume more than they even could, generally, afford to own – thank goodness for renting things, for libraries, for Hulu and Netflix! And for geeky friends sharing things as well, be that playing a board game together, or loaning a book or movie or game.
That’s what I really wanted to say. The movement towards our material goods living in an increasingly digital state is one that geeks can be and are fully behind, I think, while still being geeks. We still love physical books, love physically owning things that we can then loan to our friends when they say they haven’t read them, whatever – but we’re also finding that our lives are not as dramatically impacted by things going digital as might have been expected.