Yesterday I read a post on HBR that takes a look into what happens to us as we start to live our lives more and more online, specific to the economy and our personal spending habits. One of the paragraphs in it stood out in particular:
They call it "real" estate for a reason, yet many of us approached first, second, and vacation homes as though they were virtual property, castles we built in the sky. Debt stopped scaring us because money had stopped being real. The "correction" that has followed is surely very painful, but only as painful as the buying binge that preceded it was unhinged from reality.
I think the author has a good point here. When we don't feel that things are real, or are immediate and close, we're not as afraid of them.
Over time, we've pushed our relationship with managing our finances further and further away from us. We've moved from spending cash to writing checks to using plastic to clicking a mouse or touching a screen. We used to have to record our own deposits and transactions as they happened, but now we turn to online banking to take care of these things for us.
When you take cash out of your wallet and hand it to someone, you physically see and feel your money leaving your hands. When you had to write checks, you saw how much money left your account immediately as you recorded the transaction in the register and subtracted it from the account's total.
With the move to using credit and debit cards for most of our purchases and now paying by clicking a mouse or touching a screen, we don't have that immediate sense of how much we're spending. We want or need what's in front of us and our mind is in a million different places so we just swipe/click/touch and move on.
Through the combination of these things, our relationship with money has changed. It's not as real and immediate as it once was. If you're not diligent about watching your finances, it is far too easy to spend all that you have and then some.
As I thought about this more, I see this being a reality in other parts of our lives too.
I think a large part of the problem with obesity and several of the health issues facing the U.S. population has to do with our disconnection from our food. We don't make as much of what we eat as we used to and because of this, we don't see exactly what ingredients are going into it.
If we had to watch some of the things we eat being prepared, or even further, were given a precise recipe and told to make them as they're sold to us, I bet we'd have a lot different feeling about wanting to eat them.
I think this stuff is why there is a resurgance of interest in making things. There is something in us that wants to be more connected to the world around us and to each other. The more we put electronic and virtual things in between us and that innate part of us, the stronger the call is to do something to break it.
I think this also points to a way to fix parts of our lives that we want to improve. We need to start making things more real. If you want to get out of debt, start using cash instead of plastic. If you want to lose weight or imporove your health, start making more of what you eat. If you want to improve your relationships, starting spending more time with people in person. Of course there is a bit more to it than this, but the idea of making things more real is a strong move in the right direction.
Anyway... I'll stop there. Just wanted to share a train of thought that made me pause and wonder if we are creating too much fiction in our own lives...