A current BBC television series (as I write in July 2014), titled, 'The Men Who Made Us Spend,' sets out to expose the advertising ploy that one always needs to "upgrade." The first programme more or less identified General Motors USA as the first to give serious consideration to the notion that it was not enough for people to simply buy a car, rather, they needed to be encouraged to keep buying cars if the motor industry was going to be really successful; in other words, matters such as fashion and 'keeping up with the Joneses'' were introduced into the world of buying cars. You know the sort of thing: 'that car might have been fine two years ago but - hey! - look at the new car they now have next door, now that is really stylish! Why don't we also get something more stylish?' Yet even before this, cynical marketing ploys and deceptive sales tactics were not unknown. The principle of built-in obsolescence was already observed by some, the principle that new things should last well - but not too well - else people would never come back for replacements! The first programme in the BBC series showed how even the life of electric bulbs was limited through joint agreement among the companies that manufactured them. Interesting.
The programme (broadcast on BBC2 TV in the UK on Saturday, 12th July 2014), even appeared to charge former British prime minister Margaret Thatcher with introducing the concept of consumerism in order to solve Britain's dreadful industrial woes of the 1970s; in other words, the suggestion was made that the reasoning went something like this: let us no longer have the 'well-off' and the 'workers' (represented by the unions) continually involved in industrial disputes, but let's give them all the power of consumerism, the means to just go out and get whatever they want! Suddenly 'easy credit' was available everywhere! This is all philosophically very interesting and intriguing and maybe there is more than a modicum of truth in some of it but really it is an over-simplification. For sure - Mrs Margaret Thatcher was determined to solve the continual industrial disputes here in Britain back in the 1970s, it was all pulling the country down. Secondly, the advertising industry has indeed been very clever in getting us spending - and continuing to spend when - a lot of the time, we could have made older things last longer. But, regarding 'upgrade' advertising, I would suggest, that those who help operate and manipulate within the world of such 'market forces' (and companies like Apple, Microsoft, Argos and Ikea seem to be especially adept in that area), have simply been clever at tapping-in to something which is surely in every single one of us, that is: the desire for things to get better and to improve and to move forward. It even starts in early childhood. What small child does not want to learn to walk and read and to grow up like his/her big brothers and sisters? Some of these things are just intrinsic to us being human beings.
Think of this: Have you ever heard of a man, or woman, who said, 'my ten-year-old suit is more stylish and in better condition than all these new ones'? Or, 'my 20-year-old car is in better condition and more reliable than today's new cars'? Or, 'I don't need a new computer, my 1970s Amstrad still works just fine!' (the last one is especially laughable). No - let's face it - we all want to 'upgrade!' It goes to the core of our psyche as human beings. We all want life to improve, for better furniture, a better colour on our walls, we all want fewer weeds in our gardens and perhaps even that exciting new garden decking for outdoor socialising! Ever heard of somebody who wanted, I mean by choice, a garden full of weeds and old junk and did not want beautiful and colourful plants, trees and shrubs in it? Of course not, if the garden looks a mess, it probably got that way through laziness or because one has become too ill or too old to maintain it any longer. But does old junk look beautiful and uplifting in the garden?
The Desire to Upgrade is Divine, But There Are Dangers...
God first gave an old covenant; it was flawed, moreover God Himself knew it was flawed, but He wanted His human creation to learn a few lessons and the old covenant was very effective in that. We can all now learn from the lessons of Israel in their struggles to live within that covenant. But then God intervened dramatically in the history of our world. He sent our Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. When Jesus expired upon the cross, this brought in the New Covenant. Effectively, God 'upgraded' His plan of salvation. Wonderful! And even now God still wants us to look forward to the future. We have the Resurrection of the Dead, we have Eternal Life in the New Heavens and the New Earth. No, the desire for things to improve, indeed, to always look to 'upgrade' is, let me put it to you, ultimately a divine property; it is a bit of God's divine nature which He has allowed to be within all of us. Only we are made in God's image. Ever heard of an animal who wants to upgrade'? No, animals have instinct which makes them want to have food, shelter and a mate but if you make your dog a kennel, he won't start planning to change its colour within a year or two, or maybe to have one or two electric gadgets installed into it to make life easier!
Which Sort of Garden Would You Prefer?
God told Adam to "dress and keep" the very first garden in human history and, perhaps surprisingly, this general desire has spread to all of Adam's progeny. In any neighbourhood, those who allow their gardens/back yards to turn into trash dumping areas are never looked upon with admiration or favour!
So it is actually healthy for us to strive for improvement in all areas of our lives. However, it is also a test of character: do we want to improve our lives by honest endeavour and hard work? Or by dishonesty, cunning and stealth? And being covetous is also a character-attacking possibility: do we unreasonably envy what our neighbour has? It is not wrong to notice that your neighbour has that new car/lawnmower/home extension which you also aspire to, but don't dwell on it, don't let envy get in there! Do it your own way and in your own time.
Apparently Lucifer also wanted to 'upgrade,' he envied God's position as Supreme Ruler of the universe. It seems that he was already granted great authority and jurisdiction but it wasn't enough, no, he wanted God's 'job,' but, you know, in a desire to improve things we must always keep in mind that some things are not open to us, they are, as we say, 'out of bounds,' be sensible, don't get above your station! His desire to upgrade turned to hatred, envy and bitterness and he introduced sin into the human race as a result. So whilst the desire to 'upgrade' could certainly considered to be a divine characteristic, it always comes with tests of character. After all, the 1960s Great Train Robbers here in England also wanted to upgrade and to improve themselves, and their lifestyles, but, in the process, gave us a perfect example of how never to do it!
So it is not strictly correct to say people would never want to 'upgrade' if the concept had never been placed in human minds by cynical and crafty advertisers, no, the desire for improvement, progress, to have a better and improving life, to gradually overcome all problems and obstacles goes right to the core of what it means to be human beings made in the very image of God, although commercial interests certainly always exploit this.
Meanwhile the best possible 'upgrade' presently available to every single member of the human family is to accept, and personally apply, the supreme sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ within their own lives:
"Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light." (Matthew 11:28-30).
Robin A. Brace. July 25th, 2014.