The Cost Of Possession
I don’t think we’ve quite evolved to the point where we know what we give up when we own a thing.
Yesterday, I felt a need to clear some space in Google Drive. Google Drive is an online storage service I use to store files and photos. It’s similar to DropBox, Microsoft OneDrive, and Backblaze. I was researching another problem when I noticed that my storage utilization was getting up there to around 56 GB and goodness, I only have 100 GB of storage to use. So I thought I’d better hunt around to clear some space, just to be proactive.
I use Google Drive as a part of their Google One service. For $19.99 a year, I get 100 GB of storage space and 24/7 tech support for any Google product. $20 a year is a great deal for the storage space and the chat/email/phone support I get for my phone, my Chromebook, and the smart speakers and displays. I had blown through my 15 GB of space that comes with a Gmail account, too. I could go to 200 GB for another $10 a year, but I can wait until my girls discover photography with their own phones. For now, I just wanted to conserve space.
So I found two big folders of pictures I had uploaded years ago for review later. Much later, it seems. I was having trouble importing those pictures into my own curated collection at home on my main computer, my Linux workstation. There was no Linux client for Google Photos, so putting them into my collection at home would be a serious manual chore on top of being a husband, dad, and worker bee. I had tried other ways to do it before and failed, but yesterday, I felt like it was a good day to try.
Yesterday, I figured out a plan to clear those photos out. I downloaded the photos to the /tmp folder on my hard drive. I like /tmp on Linux because that really is a temporary folder. When I reboot the computer, everything in that folder is deleted, for real. It’s not like Windows where you can forget that you have a ton of stuff there and run out of disk space in forgetfulness.
Sorry. I will try not to get too technical here. I just want to say that I spent a couple of hours downloading, sorting, and importing the pictures that I had found, and then deleted them from Google Drive. All of those pictures required mental effort. Lots of mental effort. I wanted to preserve them and make sure that I had secured them. I was so focused on my efforts, that I could only provide fleeting moments of availability to my kids in the process. My computer backed them up to an external hard drive last night. Today, I’ll run a backup to Backblaze, too.
Everything we own requires mental effort. Everything in my house requires a decision to be made. Even just looking at something that is in the same room as I am, requires a decision to be made. Maybe I just decide to notice it, but even then, I’m still making a decision about a thing in my environment. Everything I own does that to me. Even if I don’t own it, it still does that to me.
The day before yesterday, I got drafted into another one of my wife’s projects to move furniture and organize things. She reorganized the storage room, too. She has been making cakes for birthdays. We got gifts for the kids for their birthdays, too. As I was helping her in the storage room, I noticed all the stuff we don’t use anymore, or that we’re saving for that “special occasion”. Every bit of that stuff requires a decision to be made. Even when we’re not looking at it, it still takes up some space in our heads.
So I am reminded of a certain Candy Spelling, widow and heiress to Aaron Spelling, one of the most prolific television producers in history. When Aaron Spelling died, he left Candy with a mansion valued at $120 million. Candy Spelling lost the love of her life and proceeded to sell much of what they had bought over the decades they spent together. There was so much stuff that she rented a warehouse and hired a team to gather the stuff, organize it and sell it. And she turned that into a television production, too: Selling Spelling Manor. That is all mental effort. They had to use a database to keep track of it all. That is more mental effort, and all that stuff takes up space in the brain, space that we could be using for the people we love in our lives.
The concept of property arrived rather late in the evolution of Mankind. Once we began to believe that we could own things exclusive of others, we missed an important task: developing the capacity to own things and truly understand what that means. I don’t think we, as humans, fully understand what we give up when we “own” something.
The first thing we give up is a tiny bit of the mental capacity we had to love someone. I’m thinking of Ebeneezer Scrooge here, a man so obsessed with the fear of dying poor, that he forsake the love of a woman for the love of money, property, and things. I’ve seen his story many times on screen but never read the book. I’m reading the book and one of the first things I notice is that Marley, his departed partner, informed us that he was a “money-changer”, which means lender, creditor, usurer. He bemoaned how he wasted his life working for Scrooge, while Scrooge tried to figure out a way to say, “sorry”.
I have known a few people who forsake the love of people for the love of money and property. It wasn’t entirely obvious to me what had happened until I began to look back on it now. And I see my country, nay the world, becoming consumed with devouring the very environment we live in to turn it all into “things” we can own, pet, and adore. I myself have been guilty of this, too. I know all too well, the compulsion to “love” things.
So I see the usual exchange of gifts for Christmas. I’m in that, too. Not much, but I’m in it, I support it, and I’m hopeful that we’ll figure it out. I am hopeful that we can create something like a universal recycler so that every bit of trash and refuse gets recycled into raw material feedstock to make something else instead of mining the earth for even more stuff. But what I am really hopeful for is that humanity wakes up to realize that nothing we can ever buy, rent or own, can ever replace the love of another human being. Nothing we can fashion from mother earth can hold a candle to the unpredictable, uncontrollable spirit of the people around us. That is the cost of ownership I wish to recoup, someday.