Attachment and Design

If there is one single thing that above all I am attached to (in a Buddhist sense) it is the sense I have of myself and who I am. Some highlights: I think I am reasonably intelligent; balanced in ways that matter; not terribly materialistic but also not in denial that I live in a material world (as in I feel I understand that there are better and worse choices one can make between material goods); I think I’m fairly kind and gentle as a person; and that if someone were to describe me as “nice” I wouldn’t think it a bland, empty compliment.

But are these things true? There are plenty of instances in which that kindness and gentleness has broken down under duress and pressure. But I still think of myself as gentle, thoughtful even, and wish to convey this to others. There are also people in comparison whom I could be considered very materialistic. I do care about some things that may not truly matter but are really minor aesthetic choices. But then I’m fairly attached to this sense of being balanced between materialism and immaterialism. So I could say I’m not attached to materialism, but then I might instead be attached to what I feel is my proper balance, therefore attached to at least a certain degree of materialism.

It’s a difficult road to tread when thinking about values and design. It’s easy to be caught up in the idea that those who value such things are those who can afford to pay for them, that those with the disposable income to hire an architect or interior designer or afford to be early adopters of new technology are the only people designers need to be concerned with. But much of the leading edge of technology and design is dependent upon designing for people for whom such design or technology first and foremost feeds their egos and sense of who they are. Designers are designing for attachment, for people who depend on the latest design or tech gadget for a sense of who they are and to placate weak egos and narcissism. Designers, architects, interior designers and so on, have to make a decision about who they wish to design for.

I’m not criticizing those who have more money than I do. It’s said in Zen that wealth is not a problem, the problem is attachment to wealth. It’s the same with design. Design is not a problem, attachment to design is. Are you “you” with or without the new house, the new gadget or not? If the answer is no, it’s attachment. Are you buying that (insert purchase here) to make up for a lack in other areas of your life? It’s not even as simple as the problem of advertising, converting wants to needs, because at least here the distinction is still legible. When it comes to ego weakness, psychologically, wants and needs are mostly indistinguishable.

PS: Attachment is a theme I’ll be writing about perhaps quite a bit in the near future, as it’s been on my mind recently, so if someone is reading this please bear with me.

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