I Want That!: How We All Became Shoppers

I Want That!: How We All Became Shoppers

by Thomas Hine
     
 

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Shopping has a lot in common with sex.
Just about everybody does it.
Some people brag about how well they do it.
Some keep it a secret.
And both provide ample opportunities to make foolish choices.

Choosing and using objects is a primal human activity, and I Want That! is nothing less than a portrait of humanity as

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Overview

Shopping has a lot in common with sex.
Just about everybody does it.
Some people brag about how well they do it.
Some keep it a secret.
And both provide ample opportunities to make foolish choices.

Choosing and using objects is a primal human activity, and I Want That! is nothing less than a portrait of humanity as the species that shops. It explores the history of acquisition — finding, choosing, spending — from our amber-coveting Neolithic forebears to Renaissance nobles who outfitted themselves for power to twenty-first-century bargain hunters looking for a good buy on eBay. I Want That! explores the minds of shoppers in the quest to nourish and feed fantasies, to define individuality, to provide for family, and to satisfy the needs for celebration, power, and choice — all of which lead us to malls, boutiques, websites, and superstores.

Editorial Reviews

Karim Rashid
“I Want That! raises questions about consumption, material goods, trends, cultural shapers, markets, choice, desire and guilt, and makes one really think about the state of perverse pleasure and desire for reward that Thomas Hine terms the “buyosphere.” Shop till you drop, or consume only till noon? The ultimate rewards of our crazy lives of perpetual work, the evanescent pleasure of consuming, and our over-informative material culture with its excrescence of choice, are all discussed, clearly, concisely, and cogently. I Want This Book!
St. Petersburg Times
“A fun book to read.”
Dallas Morning News
“A choice morsel to consider while foraging on your next hunter-gatherer expedition.”
New York Times
“I Want That!...help[s] us understand an activity that is fraught with cultural implications. ”
The New Yorker
In ancient Rome, artisans sold luxury goods at their clients' homes; during the seventies, Bloomingdale's deliberately confused its customers with disorganized merchandise displays. "For better and worse, it is impossible today to imagine a world without shopping," Thomas Hine argues in I Want That!. Hine coins the term "buyosphere" to describe the spaces in which we acquire, and he traces the history of shopping back to the quest of Jason who, with the help of the Argonauts, was "trying to get his hands on a valuable object" -- the Golden Fleece. "For the hero (as for some shoppers) the struggle of finding is more important than the actual getting," he explains. In these strapped times, every shopper can be a hero. "Indeed," Hine writes, "our economic health depends on shoppers' ceaseless lust for the inessential."

That "ceaseless lust" may explain the success behind John D. Freyer's singular experiment, which he chronicles in the book All My Life For Sale. Freyer, who describes himself as "the type of person who holds on to things," made almost five thousand dollars by selling all the possessions in his Iowa City home on eBay. He began with his toaster (final price: $11.50) and then moved on to an Iowa City phone book, 1999-2000 ($1.25), a copy of the novel "Infinite Jest," one-eighth read ($7.50), a Jesus night-light ($8), and his sideburns ($19.50). Though the book is a catalogue, it is also an autobiography of how objects have defined Freyer's life. He almost took up smoking because a kidney-shaped ashtray ($8) was "so damn cool," and he felt a deep anger when his father returned a handmade book ($22.50) Freyer had constructed out of ads from old Life magazines.

(Marshall Heyman)
Publishers Weekly
From the Mall of America to e-commerce, it seems shopping is more than a casual activity for most Americans. Although some believe that the rise of advertising and strip malls have fostered slavish devotion to shopping where it didn't exist before, Hine posits that the acquisition of objects has a firm place in humanity's history. A columnist for Philadelphia magazine and the cultural critic who coined the term "populuxe," Hine offers fresh insight into why we shop and how we are in some ways born to do so. Throughout recorded time, he states, shopping has allowed people to show their position in society and to gain a sense of personal control over their surroundings. Given shopping's rich and enduring history, it makes sense that people in the developed world now have such a preponderance of products to buy, and that they're marketed to appeal not to our needs but our desire for acceptance, attractiveness and power. Hine is a jaunty writer who breaks down an unwieldy topic into a thoughtful cultural riff. Although he touches on shopping's psychological effects (especially with those who seem addicted to it), Hine mainly refrains from assigning a positive or negative judgment. Instead, he delivers a balanced and entertaining analysis of how we arrived at our shopping-drenched state, and what those ringing cash registers really say about us. Photos. (Dec.) Forecast: This critique of a popular culture phenomenon could have a general readership, thanks to Hine's easy, nonjudgmental approach. Having the pub date coincide with the biggest shopping month of the year is a nice touch. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Philadelphia columnist Hine considers why we buy what we buy. With a six-city author tour. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Philadelphia magazine columnist Hine (The Rise and Fall of the American Teenager, 1999, etc.) presents a witty and informal history of the way people shop. In nine thematic and overlapping chapters, Hine discusses marketplace behavior from ancient Greece to his local Wal-Mart during markdowns. "Power" explains how traveling to a store and purchasing a few gifts demonstrates the ability of an elderly person to feel important to her family: The power to possess luxury items displays the owner�s personal authority and is reminiscent of mythological heroes seizing a sacred object. In "Responsibility," Hine points out that despite demographic changes in the workplace, women are still the primary shoppers, even buying 75 percent of NFL logo-ed gear. Hine quotes an anthropological study showing that a woman�s trip to the market parallels an ancient sacrifice. "Self-Expression" and "Attention" offer a history of markets from the Greek agora through large medieval fairs and on to modern trends, when things like ready-to-wear clothing and fixed prices freed consumers from dealing with annoying salesmen and the anonymity of large stores with appealing arrays of new selections can make shopping an enjoyable activity (online shopping, with the exception of eBay, failed to provide an equivalently stimulating variety of new items). In "Celebration," Hine shows how Christmas has become the huge shopping event that it is: Easter, with the Resurrection, is the chief Christian holiday, while Christmas has become a domestic celebration of joyful birth. The Northern European tradition of tree worship adopted by Queen Victoria spread to America, and Santa Claus has ballooned into a super manufacturer withlow-rent Arctic space and a better overnight service than Fedex. Casual and cheerful, with interesting nuggets scattered about. (20 b&w photos, not seen)

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780060959838
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
10/14/2003
Series:
Harper Perennial
Edition description:
First Perennial Edition
Pages:
240
Product dimensions:
5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.54(d)

What People are saying about this

Karim Rashid
“I Want That! raises questions about consumption, material goods, trends, cultural shapers, markets, choice, desire and guilt, and makes one really think about the state of perverse pleasure and desire for reward that Thomas Hine terms the “buyosphere.” Shop till you drop, or consume only till noon? The ultimate rewards of our crazy lives of perpetual work, the evanescent pleasure of consuming, and our over-informative material culture with its excrescence of choice, are all discussed, clearly, concisely, and cogently. I Want This Book!

Meet the Author

Thomas Hine, the author of four previous books, including Populuxe and The Total Package, is a writer on culture, history, and design. He is a columnist for Philadelphia Magazine and a contributor to the Atlantic Monthly, Martha Stewart Living, Architectural Record, the Washington Post, the New York Times, and other publications. He Lives in Philadelphia.

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