‘New and improved’ is not just a bit of harmless puffery; it’s a two-party addiction. Stupid consumers must have and stupid companies must produce – new and improved stuff. And it hurts third parties. Such as the animals who are used to test a product every time it changes, every time it becomes new and improved. And, perhaps more importantly (though I’m really not sure anymore), the people who won’t get their needs met because resources are being spent on stupid people’s wants.
There is a difference. Between needs and wants. One you can do without, the other you can’t. People like to call wants ‘needs’, however, because needs are more compelling, and such people are thus being manipulative: to say ‘I need X’ makes it sound like it’s not an option, like X must be provided; but to say ‘I want X’ leaves the other more free not to fulfil the request. We need clean water, nutritious food, shelter/warmth, and sometimes, medical care. Everything else is a want. (So yes, Freud and Maslow and every man since who says sex is a need – you’re wrong. Evidence supports the contrary claim: surprising as this may seem, people who don’t have sex do not die.)
Nor do you die without the new and improved dish detergent or lip gloss. Or this year’s Chrysler. Don’t get me wrong: many improvements are indeed improvements; some are even valuable improvements. The new detergents without phosphates are much better than the ones we had before, the ones with phosphates. And the car with the catalytic converter and higher mpg is better than its predecessor. But most changes are not improvements. (There is a difference – between change and improvement.) And most improvements are not significant enough to warrant new and improved products at the rate they’re being put on the market.
Most of the new and improved stuff is stuff we don’t need. Actually, so is most of the old and unimproved stuff. There’s a frighteningly high number of people in our society who exhibit arrested development, who seem stuck at the infantile phase of shouting ‘More! More! I want more!’ I yearn for the day when kids across our country do not start each day reciting a prayer or the anthem but the words ‘We don’t need.’ Because, by and large, in Canada, we don’t. We don’t need. We already have. Enough.
Growth is not always good. We have these good associations with the word because we think of a child growing. But the healthy child stops growing when it reaches an optimum size. There’s a name for unlimited growth: cancer.
And it’s this not stopping, it’s this making and taking more than we need, that has gotten us into this dead end. The oil supplies will run out, according to the oil industry, by 2040. The ozone layer is still dealing with the CFCs we released in the 1980s. We have enough radioactive garbage to make a six foot high pile stretching clear across our country and we don’t know what to do with it. Isn’t it time to stop? To grow up and say ‘No thank you, I’m fine, I have enough’?