I’ve always been bemused by the idea of leaving consumer product reviews. Grateful as I am to the 37 people who rated and reviewed my eventual choice of washing-line pole on Argos (and yes, it is easy to adjust and will stay up in all but the strongest of gales) I couldn’t imagine what moved them to do it. I only review products where I feel an emotional pull – books, TV and podcasts, the occasional holiday destination.
Implicit in this is the idea that what I’m reviewing is my experience of the thing, rather than the thing itself. It’s increasingly become pop-culture wisdom that experiences, not the acquisition of things, make us happy, something which chimes with my instinctive presumption against consumerism.
Then I got my tea infuser.
Before I was trapped in an eternal cycle. I’d decide that I was bored of teabags. The tea is basically floor sweepings, it tastes of nothing, the plasticised bags will live on in the soil forever blah blah blah. I’d go out and buy leaf tea and take my latest incarnation of teapot from the back of the cupboard. After about three days of tea-stains on the worktop, a drink that’s cold by the time it hits the cup and stray leaves clinging to the sink and sticking in my throat, I’d revert to teabags. Only to forget the whole experience and go through it all again a few months later.
Then the ipow infuser* came into my life and everything changed. It fits straight into your cup so the heat doesn’t stay in the pot. It even has a little lid. It has a really fine mesh which lets water through but not the leaves. When the tea has brewed, the lid doubles as a stand for the infuser. It is neat, easy to use and attractive. I can now drink good tea while I’m working without the hassle.
So that’s me getting emotional about a thing. (I also find watching washing drying on the line oddly meditative, so I guess the washing-line pole has a place in my heart too.) And what about those much vaunted ‘experiences’? Hasn’t experience become commoditised as much as any physical product? There are even companies that will sell you vouchers with a ready-made package of swimming with dolphins or jumping from a plane or even a pint and pedicure (complete with a ‘cold British beer’ when it clearly can’t authentically be both).
Of course your experience won’t really count as an experience unless you’ve got pictures (I really don’t want to see the live-stream of your pedicure) and shared the images and told everyone about the great deal you got with a quirky #hashtag and a @mention for the company to retweet.
It’s not only the experience that is packaged, you also have to ensure you’re ‘making memories’ (a Coca-Cola advertising slogan which has seeped into the wider culture). It suggests that we can conjure significance at will, if we just plan enough and spend enough and marshal the key players into place, whereas the best memories, and the most magical times, often come unbidden and can’t be bought.
Which brings me back to my infuser. It’s a small thing which brings a little joy into each day. It’s more a walk on the beach than swimming with dolphins. But I know which I’d rather have. The walk isn’t freighted with expectations and huge expense. I can have another one tomorrow, and the next day. No one walk will be transformative, but each will have its own subtle pleasure.
Shall I put the kettle on?
* This is not an affiliate link. I just want to share my good fortune.