The Quest for the Best

And why it’s a flawed philosophy of consumerism.

You hear it all the time. You see it when you browse the internet looking for a new tool or fun item. People drone over it in bar-rooms and internet forums. You feel it when you walk into a store. The best…X.

I even see it when I’m not shopping. My internet research pulls up a ton of advertising media. Without intent, I’m probably driving the Google AI insane with the diversity of crap that I read about online. But every time I begin to research a topic, what do I see?

The ten best X’s for such-and-such.

The last X you’ll ever need.

Our obsession with having the best stuff is going to be the doom of all of us some day. We live with this idea that for any type of item, there exists one top-of-the-line, best working, most amazing iteration, and it’s made by one company. Then there’s the best deal, which is the minimum cost passable tool for the job. Everything else isn’t worth the time to investigate.

The segregation of a list of 100 makes for any one type of item probably stems from some deep-seeded human survival trait, but so far I’ve failed to link it. I don’t know what the purpose of such a trait would be. All it showcases is vanity, which in itself isn’t a particularly helpful emotion. I’ll give this some thought and add it to my prescription for the human condition at some point, but for the moment, it appears to be a stigma that makes it’s point late in the evolutionary cycle.

Consumerism

There isn’t a single person alive today, including myself (at least not one reading this article) who could successfully deny the fact that they have been corrupted to some degree or another by advertising. We grew up on it, each generation in it’s kind. For me it was having a television for a babysitter. The younger crowd could say the same about phones or computers. For my father’s generation, it came via ad placement on television shows (looking at you, rich, chocolate Ovaltine). And before that radio ads, leaflets, and department store windows. I can’t speak for those before the baby boom, but advertising was still prevalent at that time as well, and no doubt demonstrated itself in its own way for the time period.

Now, advertising isn’t intrinsically evil. I’m not suggesting the abandonment of it in general, but instead making ourselves more aware of it and it’s influence on us. Everything nowadays is an advertisement. Companies pay for scientific research that makes them look good, that research (in whole or part) is leaked to the media, and words are carefully selected to glamorize a certain facet of the research. I won’t take you down the rabbit whole of reading some of these papers that are passed off as hard science, as we’d be here all afternoon and I’d need a white board. What I will say is that there isn’t a solid consensus on a lot of things that people take for granted as “proven science,” even if the media you source from makes it appear that way.

Think about it. Why else would wine or coffee be bad for you one day and then suddenly healthy the next? Why is it that very few people died of carbon monoxide poisoning when they burned open fires in closed smokey houses? Just how many energy drinks do you need to consume before dying? Or one of my favorites: why do ecigs only start exploding when a new company pops into existence to showcase their version of 100-year-old technology. (That’s right, kiddos. Vaporizing glycerine as a carrier for medicine or any other reason has been around since the early 1900s)

It’s because we get a glimpse of the picture, not the complete picture. We see fragments of the truth, and each of them is carefully tailored by marketers in one way or another. Marketers put out the press releases, they foster and create the news, or at the very least bend it to their benefit as often as possible. Again, nothing wrong with it, but the rabbit hole goes deeper.

The Best Advertising

…is the advertising that costs nothing. Fans and word of mouth. Everyone else is drinking Coke, then you drink Coke. Or, you join a band of “rebels” that want to drink Pepsi. Ford vs. Chevy, or any similar arguments. These discussions should show-case how deeply ingrained our susceptibility really is, but instead we lead ourselves to believe that there’s something more to our feelings toward different products, even different sports teams.

We cheer and champion the products we love, even when equal products exist. We make silly comparisons or point out features that we never use ourselves. And in doing so, we create rubrics by which we judge similar products, even if the categories are completely trivial (color choices, free stickers, or maybe a company that sends Christmas cards to its fans).

Our quest to find the best is relayed to us by media sources, such as blogs and merchant websites. Believe me, I’ve written plenty of content for websites to list the “best five whatever.” It actually pays pretty decent. You know how it’s done? You scan five or six of a particular type of item on amazon, read the reviews (which are placed by advertisers, you can do this with a Fiver deal), and then do a write-up for each product based on the reviews. This comes packaged with a picture and a link to, you guessed it, Amazon.

I could shell out 5000 words worth of these per day when I was freelancing. It wasn’t particularly fun, but it paid the bills. I did draw the line at writing fake reviews, something I can’t in good conscience do. I was simply summing up what people would read about the products anyway, and tried to snuff out the BS from the honest reviewers (freelancers can often spot our own kind). But for the end user, they were getting a copy of data in a manageable chunk, and the data copied was shaky at best. Only a handful of the products I wrote about were things I actually used.

I did the same with PLR content. Scraping up blog reviews, like the ones I wrote, and turning them into informational packets for everything from “International Traveling Tips for Women” to “Battling Depression.” Again, I tried to make the best content by investing more time and digging a bit deeper than my peers cared to, which is why I kept my clients happy, but that doesn’t make me an expert on any of these topics.

And the fool that feeds this monster? The person who makes money for the people that pay for such content? It’s you. And it’s me. And it all stems from this juvenile, egotistical need to have only the best stuff or the best deal.

Axes and Knives

I’ve been suckered into the whole mess before. The most blatant example was when I purchased my skinning knife, which I might add was never used and is now missing. I spent hours researching the best steels, the best blade size, qualities of a good knife for skinning, etc. etc. and price point, until I found a company that matched my wants pretty precisely. I won’t say the name of the company here. Why?

Because you don’t need a 70 dollar knife to skin a racoon! You could use a damn utility knife and do a fine job. The same is true for a $500 chef knife, a $1000 bow, or a $10,000 set of golf clubs. It’s all branding, marketing, and convincing you not only which version is the best, but the criteria by which you should judge those items.

We don’t want to buy something and be disappointed with it, so we’re careful with our hard-earned dollars and how we spend them. Or I should say, we want to believe that we’re being careful with them. We want to feel like we’re getting value out of the things we buy. So we turn to reviews, blow posts, friends, and forum websites to get as much information as possible before we buy.

But what if you don’t need the best? I think about this as it pertains to the medical industry quite often. If someone needs a surgeon, they want the best one in the state or country, and they expect that they should get that. One problem: one guy or gal can’t possibly do 1000 surgeries per day. Yet we persist. Just about anyone with a medical degree can deliver a baby. Hell, I can do it. But we seek out specialists and professionals of the highest caliber to perform even the simplest of tasks, like stitching up a minor wound.

Anyway, the point is this. Best is dictated by some criteria. That criteria is decided individually by the makers. And we take the bait every single time. We judge our vehicles by standards constructed from magazines. We rate our food by reviews online. We determine our self worth on the opinions of others.

Stop It

It’s really that simple. Next time you need to purchase something, don’t hunt for the best. Think about what you are going to use the thing for, and come up with your own criteria. Some new clothes might need to be disposable for a dirty job, yet sturdy enough to hold up. Cheap cotton fills that niche (like denim). A “good knife” needs to be sharp. You can do that with any knife. How good is your sharpening stone and your skill at using it? How often will you actually use it? You don’t need a razor for every scenario.

Perhaps the easiest solution is the accept that there is not best. In fact, look at a lot of these online discussions about “the best tool for this job.” How many of the answers begin with “depends?” It totally depends, on everything. For most items, the real answer is to just buy something and give it a go. Or better, just don’t buy anything if it’s something you don’t need or won’t use.

What you absolutely shouldn’t do is start by saying you need a simple tool to do a certain job, and then talk yourself up through your research into paying ten times more than what you planned from the start. In this case, you’re doing the work of a salesman, and doing it to yourself. You’re up-selling, because the more you dig, the more you become convinced that you need something better than what you set out to buy in the first place.

Or maybe I’m just crazy. I dunno. What do you think?


Add Your Comment

* Indicates Required Field

Your email address will not be published.

*