In 2007, Paul Grahm wrote an essay called “Stuff.” It’s a short essay in which Graham decries the accumulation of stuff. At the end of the essay, Graham argues that the accumulation of stuff hints at a historical shift:
A historical change has taken place, and I’ve now realized it. Stuff used to be valuable, and now it’s not.
In industrialized countries the same thing happened with food in the middle of the twentieth century. As food got cheaper (or we got richer; they’re indistinguishable), eating too much started to be a bigger danger than eating too little. We’ve now reached that point with stuff. For most people, rich or poor, stuff has become a burden.
Last week, Bob Lefsetz wrote a letter also called “Stuff.” In it, he notes that young people no longer care about accumulating stuff. Millenials don’t care about cars, big houses, video game consoles, CDs, books, magazines.
So instead of building that mansion you’re better off downsizing. Spending that money on trips and meals, ever notice that kids snap photos of their food as opposed to their apartments?
Physical items are souvenirs. Not to be of use so much as mementos of experiences. They will not die, but they’re certainly fading in importance.
While Lefsetz doesn’t reference Graham, it sounds like they would agree with each other. The historical change predicted by Graham is happening and being observed by Lefsetz.
As a millenial, I’m inclined to agree with Lefsetz. Of course, I like that it makes millenials look good and baby boomers look bad. But his piece also resonated with how I view stuff. Cars are a hassle, and I don’t particularly like driving them. I don’t really want to own a house. They also seem like a hassle, and I’d rather have a landlord take care of those hassles. And I haven’t ever cared about owning a video game console, or even a TV.
As a counterpoint, though, take a look at the rise of Pinterest. Pinterest is all about stuff, and its one of hottest web services of the year, scoring a glowing review this summer in The Atlantic. And it’s particularly popular among millenials. I don’t understand Pinterest, but its popularity would suggest stuff is as popular as ever.