Owning numerous objects and having collections can be traced back centuries. However, the Internet with its reach across the world has allowed more people to discover new interests and share them with others, creating a cycle that breeds consumerism. In a world powered by algorithms, it can be interesting to study how being a collector can have various benefits such as being a social symbol, investment opportunities, or just nostalgia.
Kiara Timpano, University of Miami's Professor of Psychology, explains that archaeological records have demonstrated that the ownership of objects is a universal phenomenon that can be traced back 105,000 years ago. Collecting is often practiced to learn more about the item, to show loyalty to a country, or just for personal pleasure. In present times, people tend to collect vinyl records, Lego sets, and mechanical keyboards.
Aristocratic collectors of the 19th century tended to collect rarities like fossils for display purposes and later donate them to museums, hence, being an example of how collecting can be a status symbol in society. To date, the wealthy collect items as an investment.
In the fashion scene, it is evident that Birkin bags have become all the rage. Jamie Chua, a Singaporean socialite and online personality, revealed the details of her Birkin collection via a closet tour video on YouTube in 2019. In this, she demonstrates her extensive assemblage of handbags, mostly from the luxury brand Hermès. It is evident that she is extremely knowledgeable about how she invests her money, as she explains that she prefers to invest in something of value, rather than something seasonable. Her self-proclaimed ‘prize possession’ is her Hermès Himalayan Birkin.
The $432,000 handbag is named the 'Holy Grail in a Handbag collection' by Christie’s due to various factors. The color of the bag, which is achieved through a time-consuming process of dyeing a crocodile hide, resembles the white of the snow and the rocky grey of the snow-capped Himalayas. Further, the product combines precious materials and craftsmanship with the equestrian background of the brand. Chua owns three versions of the bag, one iteration having diamonds encrusted on the hardware which she bought in 2008.
However, expensive collections are not limited to the fashion world. Mechanical keyboards have become all the rage due to the high number of video game players (gamers) in the world. It is projected that there will be 3.07 billion gamers in 2023. As a non-gamer, I learnt about mechanical keyboards from a video made by Linh Truong early this year wherein she built her own.
Jolene Dobbin for HP explains why mechanical keyboards are better for gaming. Mechanical keyboards are more tactile, durable and faster in speed. There are different types of mechanical keyboards in the market though they can be broken down into two categories: linear, wherein the switches need to push down all the way, or tactile, which has switches that can be pushed halfway down to activate. The switches are made up of three parts: keycap, stem and housing. All three components can be customized which is where the fun comes in for mechanical keyboard enthusiasts. Custom keycaps can be purchased by artists on Etsy or Carousell for a variety of designs and are the parts that determine the aesthetic value of the keyboard.
The keeb community (short for keyboard community) spans over one million subscribers now with content creators on Instagram having over 100 thousand followers. One of which is Jen or @get.switched whose videos have gotten over one million views. It is clear that interests in mechanical keyboards transcend gaming interests. With work-from-home set-ups being increasingly popular due to the pandemic, it is clear that people have started to prioritize their office set-ups to optimize comfort and productivity. If Studio Ghibli-related keycaps provide a guaranteed serotonin boost to get through an eight-hour work day at home, who are we to deny them that?
Jacob Alexander, a software engineer, founder of the Input Club and keyboard collector, goes through his collection in a video with Gizmodo. He has 600 keyboards and in this video, he elaborates on the history behind them. The most well-known tech channel which focuses on keyboards is Glarses, which has amassed nearly 800,000 subscribers.
The resurgence (or let’s face it, romanticization) of retro technology has led to today’s youth using vinyl records, analogue film cameras, and more recently, camcorders and point-and-shoot digital cameras. Vinyl records are hypothesized to have made a comeback as it provides listeners with a more intimate connection to music because of their tangible properties. Listeners are forced to listen to the record in its intended order. Gen Z is to thank for the increase in vinyl sales with Taylor Swift’s Evermore and Harry Styles' Fine Line taking the top two spots in highest vinyl album sales halfway through 2021. Though it will not be a dominating revenue generator for musicians due to streaming platforms, it is still profitable.
Analogue film photography has become increasingly popular. It is the use of 35mm or 120 medium format film or large format rather than memory cards. The film is then developed and prints are made. It is reviving because it is authentic. With no immediate preview of the shot, it takes a lot of practice and experience for someone to get beautiful film images. Therefore, the photographer’s knowledge, experience and creativity on how to make the most out of the 24 to 36 frames available in one film roll is commendable.
The use of film brings a dynamic and imperfect look that cannot be replicated easily on digital cameras. However, the return of this style of photography has led to the skyrocketing of film prices. Kodak, the global leader in manufacturing film, has increased the price of film stock by an average of 10 to 15% each year since 2018 due to the high demand. Fujifilm discontinued its film stock due to the downward trend but has since announced that production has returned and will continue due to the significant increase in demand. Despite the high prices, the film movement is still incredibly popular with the #filmisnotdead on Instagram having over 2 million posts under the hashtag.
Something that Gen Z can actually find nostalgic feelings toward is LEGO sets, whose revenue increased by 27% in 2021. LEGO consumer sales jumped due to the pandemic and through e-commerce which is a major shift from the traditional physical stores that make up the brand image. An article by the New York Times describes what it’s like to be an adult fan of LEGO (or AFOL) in today’s time. The revival of Lego can be partially attributed to the viral flower bouquet kit that became extremely popular amidst Gen Z and was constantly sold out. This led to LEGO sets becoming termed the ‘ultimate hobby’ of 2021. Just this year, the LEGO Vincent van Gogh’s ‘Starry Night’ set became increasingly sought after due to the kit selling out in the first batch that was only available to VIPs.
For reasons other than nostalgia and genuine interest, collection can quickly turn into hoarding which in the 2010s, was a big trend. The TLC reality show, Extreme Couponing, later renamed Extreme Couponing: All-Stars, was previewed in December 2010 and later began regular airings in April 2011. The show now runs on Discovery Family and there are five seasons in total. In essence, the premise of the show is to showcase shoppers who make extensive use of coupons in order to save money while collecting large amounts of goods.
An article written by Adrienne Rose Bitar elaborates that couponing is “an expression of consumer muscle, revealing the power of the feminine economy and the American housewife” because of the resourcefulness present in women, who tend to be stereotyped with domesticity and consumerism. Couponing has allowed women to have power as shopping becomes a laborious task, rather than one of frivolity. Housewives are economically vulnerable and they tend to perform twice as much unpaid work as their husbands. Hence, this article demonstrates how couponing has provided women with a chance to help their husbands in an economic sense but also with power as she reduces her grocery bill by more than 80%.
Further, it was found that affluent consumers tend to be the ones who use coupons with their extensive stockpiles in large homes with storage space to keep their numerous amounts of toilet paper and pasta sauce. Stockpiling is the purchasing of large quantities of a single item which can lead to excess items that must be rotated and organized regularly. Under the curtain of organization will always be the issue of hoarded food items that later spoil and become wasted. A common example is the constant conversation surrounding Khloe Kardashian’s pantry after an exclusive preview was released on Poosh.
Despite this, minimalism tends to be the trend nowadays in more ways than one, possibly due to the pandemic as many have become mindful of their consumption. Minimalism tends to be synonymous with being environmentally conscious, with brands, such as those in the beauty sphere, introducing refillable packaging. This coincides with the rise of the ‘clean girl aesthetic’ that has placed importance on the less is more approach.
Though it is problematic due to white people taking the reins on a type of look that people of color have regularly worn for decades now, the building blocks of how to achieve this aesthetic consist of minimal products and steps. It can also be questioned whether the clean girl aesthetic was derived from a genuine interest in enhancing one’s features or if it is all a ploy to get out of the house faster to be more productive, a la the ‘that girl’ aesthetic that is now all over social media. Regardless of one’s stance on the clean girl, it is the start of a shift in the beauty industry. Gone are the days of thick foundation and matte liquid lipsticks, and in are the days of skin tints and multipurpose lip and cheek products.
Similarly, makeup decluttering videos have become increasingly popular on YouTube, the complete antithesis of makeup collection videos of the 2010s. It is evident that many are turning a new leaf to be more aware of materialistic tendencies as information on sustainability and the urgency of the climate crisis have become readily available.
In a time of hustle culture and constant anxiety about the state of the world, hobbies and all their side effects can be incredibly important to how one copes with the everyday stressors of life as it can also lead to the release of serotonin, oxytocin, endorphins, and dopamine. Though over-consumption can be a by-product of hobbies, joy amidst a time of one world-changing event after another should be a viable reason for someone to continue pursuing their passions, one building block after another.