Perhaps about fifteen years ago, Americans rediscovered that they could run barefoot. Some found that it helped with certain recurring injuries of theirs. You might think this would be terrible for shoe companies, but you underestimate the resourcefulness of the modern corporation. Shoe companies merely figured out how to market shoes for a person to run barefoot in. They look like this.
Now, it is hard to find shoes that aren’t “minimalist” in some way. (Separated toes are not necessary.) Stop for a moment and appreciate the significance of this. Shoe companies appropriated a trend to stop using their product to sell even more shoes. And the minimalist versions often need to be replaced more frequently. This is a huge business story that escaped notice, but it is not exactly a surprising story. Companies always seek to invent things to sell to people, even when what people are clamouring for is to be freed of companies.
Remember the Tom Hanks bit from You’ve Got Mail about how the variety of choices at Starbucks allows a person to assert their identity through their beverage choice?
Your car isn’t the subject of a bit. It actually does assert your identity.
Luckily, there is no one best identity available. Some people will guffaw at a Ferrari in favor of the Ram Laramie Longhorn Edition. Others will gravitate towards the Mercedes S-class.
But those are the things you are supposed to want. There is a large and growing segment of the population who want something different than would be considered traditionally best. They seek to go beyond the game by not buying what they think companies think they are supposed to buy.
That’s why Julia Roberts drives a Prius.
If you want to consume, companies will happily sell you things to consume. If you want to not consume, companies will invent things to sell you to support that desire. That doesn’t make you or them bad. That’s just a description of what happens. And, yes, your 1995 Mazda 323 functions the same way as the used t-shirt from the thrift store. And that’s OK.
You don’t get to pick whether you play the game. Society will do it for you. Your consent was never requested. You are the kid with his arms firmly crossed in the middle of the playground who has been tagged “It” yelling out that you’re not playing.
Sorry. You’re still It. And doubly so if you have consciously decided against having a car.
It is possible that you simply happen to not have a car, particularly if you are young. But perhaps you go further and aggressively disown a car. Not owning a car is the pinnacle of your selected game. You one-upped Julia Roberts.
Minimalists might not own a lot of stuff, but they sure do own minimalism as an identity. Becoming Minimalist has over 250,000 monthly readers.
You ought to know how this song ends. Companies will sell minimalism to you.
At $13,270 the Smart sounds like a great idea. Until you look at the price and discover a Nissan Versa sedan is 10% cheaper, seats 150% more people, carries more stuff, gets better fuel economy and has a transmission that doesn’t shift like a drunk 14 year old learning to drive a stick.
Alex misses the point of the Smart. That it seats fewer people, carries less stuff, and has a crappy transmission are all features. Those are key selling points. The Smart allows the buyer to aggressively not have extra seats. Taking out those seats is the same as Gap fading its jeans: a reason to charge more. To Alex’s traditionalist sensibilities, more and newer is better, but less is more in a way that matters to customers of Smart.
The Smart car is for people who want their vehicle’s cheapness to be pitched as a status symbol. A Versa might actually be a cheaper, better car, but it doesn’t communicate that you have chosen cheapness as a virtue rather than simply having bought a cheap car.
Photo credits: Wikimedia Commons