Monday, December 01, 2003

What Do You Need?

Oddly enough, my thanksgiving break wasn’t nearly as lazy as I would have liked it to have been. Sure, it was relaxing and all, but I didn’t get nearly as much sleep as I would have liked and I didn’t get to sit around and simply read & watch tv for hours on end. What’s even more odd is that I really didn’t mind that much. It was simply enjoyable being home with the family.

For thanksgiving our family just stayed home by ourselves, which I enjoy much more than trying to have a bunch of people over or trying to make it to other people’s dinners. I’d rather just stay home, not have to worry about driving, not have to worry about trying to be sociable, and not worry about other people’s cooking. Instead, my dad and I (with a little help from Ryan and mom) cooked dinner, which consisted of turkey, stuffing, potatoes, gravy, crescent rolls, and macaroni & cheese. It was very scrumptious and my tummy was quite pleased, if not a little overstuffed! After that much food, there was no other option for afternoon activities besides sitting down to watch football. The rest of the evening was spent cleaning the basement and getting to bed semi-early in preparation for Black Friday.

Yes, for about the fifth year in a row, I was outside Best Buy’s doors at a little before 5 am. What makes this feat so crazy every year is that we live 45 minutes outside of town, so in order to get there that early Ryan and I had to get up before 4 am. Most people would call us crazy, but I think of us more as über-crazy. Every year there has been some reason that we’ve “needed” to be there, and this year was no different. In years past we’ve managed to get most of our house’s electronic goods on this most holy of shopping days. Last year it was a monitor for mom’s computer and some other computer parts. Two years ago it was a new television and some computer parts. Three years ago it was mostly just computer parts. This year it was a lot of things.

The “thing” that was foremost on my mind was a nice, shiny, new laptop computer. Ever since high school I have drooled over the portability of a laptop. Oh, how I’ve always wanted a computer that I could take with me anywhere. As of Friday, that dream became a $500 reality. For that price I could not pass up a loaded laptop—2.4 Ghz processor, 256 Mb DDR ram, 30 Gb hard drive, DVD/CD-RW drive, and a 15” screen. With this purchase, I was also able to fulfill one of my brother’s “needs”, that being a portable dvd player (he bought my 7” portable off of me since I now have a 15” portable!).

We also managed to haul in a few other neato things for the family (and for me, but they were put away for xmas, so I’ll refrain from mentioning them until after xmas). Our family camcorder broke a few months ago so we picked up a new one. In comparison to our old one, this new one is SO COOL! I don’t know how we ever survived without an LCD for recording (and replaying). The picture is also so much clearer on this cam than on our older one. The size difference was also quite noticeable (the new one being small and light and the old being heavy and somewhat bulky).

Now you may have noticed that in the above paragraphs I have put the word “need” in quotes whenever I’ve used it. I did this because of a conversation I recently had with Kristin over break when we talked about what people really need. What do people really need? We use the word so liberally in our speech and conversations, you’d think that everything that could possibly be in a person’s price range must be a need. I have also often wondered exactly what a person’s needs may be, but usually I do not think I have a proper answer.

In the strictest sense, for human survival all we really, truly need is basic sustenance in the form of food and water, enough clothes to keep us warm, and shelter from the elements. Beyond that, we don’t really “need” anything. I, however, find this troubling. What about companionship or love? What about purpose? What about material “things”? I honestly think that they all hold a place in someone’s canon of needs as well.

Without other human contact and a purpose, what would life ever offer over death besides persistence in this world? Nothing, really. Any “normal” human being I think also craves, and “needs”, other things beyond sustenance, the biggest of those things being human interaction. I don’t even think it has to be meaningful interaction—any will do. Just knowing that you are not alone and that you have someone experiencing the same world that you are is essential for persisting in this world.

Beyond just simple human interaction and sustenance, humans must also have a purpose. I don’t mean that everyone must have some grandiose plan, but we are a goal oriented species and without something to strive for we lose any meaning that the world might offer to us. Imagine your life without goals—all goals—and tell me what it is like. I simply cannot imagine that type of life.

Even if we have purpose, human contact, and sustenance, do we really need all of the “things” we say we do? Do I need a new laptop? Does your child really need that $80 pair of jeans? Does Michael Jackson really need more plastic surgery? I know the answer to the last question is obviously yes (please fix your face, Michael, because I’m starting to have nightmares any time I see you on the news), but what about the first two and related questions? I think that it is very possible that they could be needs, but the criteria for the need must be known and expressed. When I say I “need” a laptop, I don’t mean, “I cannot survive without a laptop,” but instead I mean, “For me to be able to do computing from places other than my room, I must have a portable computer, but I will not buy one unless the price is justifiable.” The same could be said for the jeans. You could need them because your old pants ripped out and you have the necessary amount of funds to buy this new, comfortable pair of jeans.

The problem that I think comes into play when people criticize other people about their “needs” is when they don’t understand the criteria that a person is using to come to the conclusion that they have a need. Someone may think that by me saying, “I need a laptop” that I am being absurd because I don’t need it to survive. To be a more productive worker and to make my work available on the go, I must have something besides my desktop, namely a laptop, and by that I “need a laptop”.

Need is also very often associated with money, but that is a topic for another day as I now have to leave for my morning class. I “need” to attend so I cannot finish this at the moment, but there will definitely be more to come tomorrow or the next day!

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