Now that e-commerce has proliferated and arguably become the backbone of big-box retail as well, consumers have more choices than ever before—so many in fact that comparison shopping has become almost overwhelming. Search results return pages and pages of different brands and models, and although product reviews should be helpful, they often lead to more confusion. So how might shoppers make informed and efficient purchases in the lightning-fast Information Age?
Enter the new and improved middleman: the curator. Although the concept of marketplace personalization (aka me-commerce) emerged in tech circles around a decade ago, its implementation has now become mainstream. Across the internet, more and more individuals and companies are adopting the curator model to promote their businesses and offer the weary consumer respite from digital chaos.
One example is Touch of Modern (ToMo), a lifestyle boutique similar to forerunner The Sharper Image, but with more panache. Most of ToMo’s sales post via their members-only app which offers gadgets, furniture, home décor, cookware, apparel, and novelty items culled in line with the company’s hip aesthetic. Three months after launching in 2012, Touch of Modern netted one million dollars and now generates enough revenue to advertise on national television.
In their latest commercial, they pat viewers and themselves on the back: “At Touch of Modern dot com, we get that the things you surround yourself with reflect who you are.” But this seemingly natural supposition within the construct of consumerism is in reality a half-truth at best. Aesthetic discernment can provide a person with a sense of self-worth, but as the Danish philosopher, Soren Kierkegaard, noted in the nineteenth century, such discernment is only the first step to becoming whole. Beyond matters of taste lie ethical and spiritual considerations that a person must actively address to avoid imbalance and delusion. Unwittingly illustrating this point, the commercial goes further and closes with the words, “Because sometimes things aren’t just things—they’re you.”
Behold the evolution of late-stage capitalism where people merge with products and usher in a chilling era of categorical materialism. Because if things are you, what happens when those things are lost, stolen, outdated, broken, or simply irrelevant? You must be found again, hopefully at a discount. Thus a consumer-based formula for selfhood resembles a treadmill synonymous with a scrolling thumb. Behind the habit-forming behavior lurks the fallacy of greatness by association, or the belief that individuals who surround themselves with desirable objects are themselves desirable.
In this regard, Touch of Modern is by no means culpable but symptomatic of an artificial economy that manufactures lack, outsources production, and markets objects of professed fulfillment to a culture ravaged by inordinate self-interest. This is not to say that possessions have no meaningful place in our lives, just that their importance is tragically overstated. No tombstone reads: I should have bought the limited edition. No life slips away and longs for more stuff. Time and people and happy memories: these are our greatest treasures. Sophisticated marketing understands this and frames merchandise as a gateway to the intangible, but we should ignore such imagery and evaluate products in terms of quality design and craftsmanship. That way we can refine our tastes and enjoy our purchases without kidding ourselves.