Oh Denis Diderot: where have you been in my life? The last time I thought about you was in Humanities 210, when I read Rameau's Nephew. About which I remember nothing. The next year, a friend wrote his senior thesis on Diderot, entitled Le Philosophe Dans les Ruelles (why do I remember that? must have had a crush on the guy).
While procrastinating on my own decluttering, I chanced upon a blog post by Philip Brewer. Here is an excerpt from his post:
The Diderot Effect is named after the French writer Denis Diderot, who wrote a famous essay on how the gift of one very nice item had made his other things look shabby. In an amusing fashion, the essay traces out the series of steps by which he ended up having to upgrade everything he owned.
A whole lot of marketing is aimed at getting you to buy one nice thing — because the marketers know that having one nice thing will put you on the path to replacing many other items as well — things that are perfectly good, but that aren't as nice as your new thing.
It's an easy trap to fall into, and a terrible one.
Fortunately, the Diderot Effect is its own cure. While one nice thing makes your other stuff look shabby, when your stuff is all about the same, it produces a pleasant inertia that makes it easy to resist upgrades.
I wonder if the writer read and remembered Diderot? The term was coined by an academic/guru of culture and commerce, Grant McCracken. The Wikipedia entry describes McCracken's thesis thus:
In McCracken's usage the Diderot Effect is the result of the interaction between objects within "product complements", or "Diderot unities", and consumers. A Diderot unity is a group of objects that are considered to be culturally complementary in relation to one another. For example, items of clothing, furniture, vehicles, etc. McCracken describes that a consumer is less likely to veer from a preferred Diderot unity in order to strive towards unity in appearance and representation of one's social role. However, it can also mean that if an object that is somehow deviant from the preferred Diderot unity is acquired, it may have the effect of causing the consumer to start subscribing to a completely different Diderot unity.
The term was popularized (again, thank you Wikipedia) in Judith Schor's The Overspent American.
If you want to read Diderot's essay, here is a translation (on a Marxist site! how appropriate!)
Anyway, for me, this has been food for thought. Should I subscribe to Brewer's idea: keep everything at the same level? Is it possible to upgrade one thing without having to upgrade everything?
Have you ever succumbed to the Diderot Effect?