Story by Nicolaia Rips
Illustration by Tina Tona
On my phone I have a folder strictly for shopping—in it: The RealReal, Depop, Ebay, Amazon, Pinterest. Truthfully, most apps I download have the potential to be fodder for my consumption. Social network apps are the biggest perpetrators. Though I follow friends and acquaintances, for the most part my social apps act as a network of inspiration. I get to see what everyone else is doing, wearing, even the shows their watching. This mutated voyeurism (can it really be called voyeurism when what is watched is readily on display?) inspires obsession.
Influence is conducted on a grassroots level, a trend that is almost a return to the ladies of Avon. Though the Avon brand may not have carried over until the 21st century, their legacy lives on in today’s influencers. At the time, the brand played a huge role in female financial independence. Women would buy Avon makeup products and resell them, some going door to door in their community, some hosting parties for the specific purpose of selling products to their friends. The Avon ladies, typically as beautiful married upstanding members of their community, lent credibility to the brand and in turn the brand paid them. Think of today influencers as the digital version of that, although now we can name this as an exchange of cultural currency. Today’s brands have started tapping into this on varying levels—some hiring popular students in their communities as representatives, scaling upwards giving midrange influencers free products. Instead of paying Beyonce millions of dollars to make one post, why not pay 10,000 college students a hundred dollars each to make ten? Many advertise without any financial compensation, just #streetcred. It’s the same leverage of social status into financial gain (or furthering social status to one day segue it into financial gain), just micro.
The nuances of influence trickles into the consumer. I purchase products based on what I see in my feeds, conscious or otherwise. Take for example that skirt. You know the one. The leopard print one. That everybody is wearing. Why? Yeah it’s pretty, but honestly Réalisation Par gave a couple hot girls the skirt and they wore it in a couple of hot polaroids and people all across the internet thought, “wow wish I could be that hot and cool and in a polaroid” and then bam–skirt sells out and everybody buys polaroid film (I’m kidding, but it’s possible).
Here’s when I get obsessive. Because I know everybody’s buying that skirt, I can’t simply also buy the skirt. I need to spend hours organizing in other apps to rationalize the purchase. To purchase without delay is to concede to my own unoriginality. No! I must be on some bullshit. My obsession with the skirt I saw on Instagram travels to Pinterest, then maybe I scour Depop, The RealReal and eBay to see if I can find a cheaper version, a second hand version. I check in intervals, not wanting to devote hours, but one minute over the course of days. My obsession becomes validated, instead of a simple urge, the circularity of social media, my own personal time-wasting loops turns the fleeting, desire, into something more developed, obsession.
Honestly, I think that this experience dilutes the desire. Instead of wanting something purely, obsessing over something naturally (if that’s even possible at this stage of late capitalism haha), my wants are altered by everything/everyone else. Since there are whole movements devoted to unprocessed foods, natural skincare, a return to less interfered with goods and produce, I would like to propose we do the same with obsession! I’ll take my obsession unprocessed, thank you. Paraben and Kardashian free. I but digress, often before I even purchase an item I’ve talked myself out of it, having found something new to obsess over. I often rationalize myself out of purchasing whatever I’ve been pinning after. I make it too accessible. I think about it too much, allow myself to be bored without ever fully acquiring it. There are so many things, in fact, to obsess over that I get tired of obsession. Maybe tired isn’t the right word. Maybe disgusted. To obsess over one thing is okay. To feel constantly ruled by obsession and further to continuously move the pieces of it around, reconfiguring where I’m placing it, is to be forever dissatisfied.