I've spent a fair amount of time recently thinking about the exchange of labour for consumer goods. Most of it, it has to be said, in shopping centres of one kind or another and in town. Time was, we, as adults, mostly toiled away over a lifetime working in jobs of one kind or another and were rewarded with pieces of paper or numbers in a computer system somewhere which were exchanged for those pieces of paper.
These days, with the use of plastic, it's gone beyond that. Some of us exchange our daily labour just for the numbers in a centralised computer somewhere that we never see shy of a balance on a screen.
Then what do we do? Well, we exchange our labournumbers(tm) for the basics in life - food, shelter, clothes, transport and then see how much we have left over. We then take the remining labournumbers(tm) and do one of two things with them. We either hoard them in a centralised computer somewhere or we exchange them for frivolities. Expensive handbags, garden furniture, swanky bottled water, 40 inch plasma screens or any one of a thousand other things that fall under the category of "wants" rather than "needs".
We never really look at it like that, do we? That everything we buy, everything around us represents the sweat of our brow. That DVD? Two hours work last Monday. That treadmill you'll use twice before you get bored with it and start using it as a clothes horse? 4 days on the job. Those expensive shoes? A week's work. A full 9 to 5, Monday to Friday. And you might wear them only once.
It was brought home to be in a small way when I was out on Saturday. Have a look at these.
It's a new limited range of Penguin books where they rebrand recent bestsellers in the old Penguin style. Very cool. I wanted some of them immediately even though I had the originals and, if I wasn't flat broke, I might have bought some of them for the bookshelf at home.
But they all would represent work. Work I had done, some of it hard and painstaking and possibly horrible all exchanged for a book I would, chances are, never actually get around to reading. And it wouldn't be the first time that had happened. I have a shelves of books and DVDs at home that I've bought and still not read or watched again, sometimes years after their purchase.
They all seemed like a good idea at the time but, as happens with most of us, consumption outweighed leisure time and they piled up. Weeks and weeks of my working life exchanged for pointless space fillers.
I don't know where this is all going, I don't think I have a point here, just that in a consumerist society we seem to value cheaply what we get in return for our hard, hard work.