Acquisitionalism and the lure of the insider
The internet drives gear geekery, this much we know. I recall, back in my elementary school gear geek days, the excitement when the quarterly (and no more!) Patagonia and TNF catalogues arrived. Online “research” has sped up information dissemination, and decreased our attention spans. That this has led to gear fetishization taking the place of trip planning more than ever before is I think axiomatic. The more interesting question is just how this takes places, daily.
Bibler Eldorado eyebrown vent, as the seam seal dries in our garage. This is a damn expensive tent, even discounted.
The internet drives acquisitionalism not just because it brings all the cool new stuff so easily into view, but because the internet fosters community, and within that community one can bear witness to the acquisitions of others. The summary and quite unconscious effect of this is to drive the consumer mindset further. First by simple exposure to various stuff, some of which is bound to appeal, and second by inculcating an illusion that the mean pace of gear acquisition is significantly highly than your own. The ago-old competition to have the best lawn mower, atlatl, etc is like all things digital made more egregious.
The illusions created by the distance and depersonalization of the ‘net can be here rather dangerous. There is often no way to know if that well-versed person who flips cuben fiber, carbon bikes, or uber light mountain rifles every few months is a single anaesthesiologist making 600k a year, or merely an average joe with a disregard for credit card debt (something far more prevalent than most think, in my opinion). It’s worth noting that women make up seemingly 3% of the online gear chatter, for reasons I will not speculate on today.
There is another, perhaps more pernicious form of this, which I’ll call the lure of the insider. It further feeds and distorts the normalization of buying ever more stuff, and lay folks can fall victim if they don’t mind the gap. The gap being the discrepancy between the purchasing power of those with access to industry discounts and those who do not. I say access because the various permutation of bro deals and good guy discounts can never be fully accounted for. In either case, the potential savings on big ticket items can be substantial.
In my case, I occasionally get free stuff, be it a project for BPL or because the perceived influence I wield here on this blog. This last doesn’t happen very often, hopefully in part because I make it a point to be hard to contact. Pro-deals are a more substantial influence on my purchases, both their nature and their frequency. By choice I make an exceedingly modest income, and much of the gear I’ve acquired lately would simply never have been attainable at full retail.
The first effect of this is to make me appear more affluent than I am, which given the effect size I don’t consider a big risk. The second effect, and the more interesting, is the influence discounts have on my purchasing habits. I don’t buy crap, or even anything in which I’m not interested, just because it is on sale, but if my third choice ski or jacket is 100 bucks less that will be a powerful argument. The sticking point in all this is that part of every pro-deal agreement I’ve seen is a non-disclosure clause. One prominent company, whose pro-deal is both very generous and notoriously hard to get, takes their inspiration from Fight Club: “the first rule of pro-deal is you don’t talk about pro-deal.” While part of this is no doubt to keep them from being inundated by applications from wankers, it also distorts the market and the culture around it in a way which supports commercial excess and can only benefit gear makers.
So be a critical consumer of gear talk, in any setting. There is no such thing as objectivity, but that does not mean that all forms of subjectivity are merely subjective or created equal. For my own part I’ll be more open about the purchasing details in future gear posts, though for selfish reasons not as purely transparent as I might like. I don’t want to be kicked of the free ride, and I am not afraid to admit as much.
There are benefits to all this, both generally and in my case. My own ability to think critically about gear is undeniably enhanced by being able to use more gear, and by being able to acquire it more easily. Uniting the focus provided by unity of perspective with a broad first hand view of the market is valuable and difficult to achieve, and anything which makes that more probable is helpful. I also find it useful to be less attached to a purchase. If the monetary investment is substantial and there is no easy way to recoup some of that cost it is harder to admit to yourself that something is crap. Having a lower upfront cost makes this less likely, as does the speculative value inherent in pro-deals. Buy something at discount, use it for a few months, sell it at 50% of MSRP. This usually ends up being a good deal for the buyer and a modest loss over the purchase price for the seller, and allows my gear fund to chug along with minimal reinvestment needed.
All of which is a great preamble for my new role as a Gossamer Gear trail ambassador. I’m excited, not just because I get a free pack and discounts on other stuff, but because it appears that I’ll be able to have some influence in the product development process. Gossamer Gear has raised their game in recent years, and appears to have one of the most robust business model of the UL backpacking companies. They also do things differently than I do, which seemed important. There wouldn’t be much point in my feedback going to a company like HMG with whom I already agree on many things. My hope is that in a few years Gossamer Gear can take their products in some new directions, and that I can help them do it. Look for thoughts and numbers of the Gorilla pack whenever it arrives.