How to Survive in an Age of Multiplying Desires and Zero Ambition

Social Commentary

How to Survive in an Age of Multiplying Desires and Zero Ambition

Illustration: Akshita Monga

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few years ago, if I couldn’t remember something – say a name of a café I visited on my trip to Jaisalmer – I quickly googled it, got my answer, and moved on. It satiated my immediate curiosity and that was that. Today, I am scared to Google anything. Because along with the search come stamp ads, click-through banners, sponsored posts, and whatnot. And they haunt me in the form of an offer – be it on tickets, clothes, shoes, accessories, or cuisine. Relentlessly urging, pushing, and pestering me to buy something or the other.

I recently changed my WhatsApp status to “Hey there! WhatsApp is using me”. Friends were amused, family was confused, but nobody saw the point. The point being this: We aren’t the consumers anymore, we are the products. They’re selling us to others. Those they sell us to, sell back to us and know more about us, thus making buying and selling an infinite loop. It’s like the game we played in our childhood days – pass it on, no returns – taken to a whole new level.

What are they selling? In one simple word: Desire. If you see something, and you see it everywhere, you want it. In a New York Times essay titled “My Year of No Shopping,” American author Ann Patchett wrote, “If you want something, wait awhile. Chances are the feeling will pass. If you don’t see it, you don’t want it.” But today, there is no way to not see it, because your screen is constantly popping up with an offer on your next desire, even before you’ve added the first one to the cart.

There is a sale almost every day; for every season and every occasion online retailers offer discounts – summer, monsoon, Akshaya Tritiya, Mother’s Day. Heck, when they run out of imagined occasions, they announce an “End of Reason Sale”. There’s no escaping sales, even in the offline world. To keep up with e-commerce, malls are selling the most ridiculous items at dirt-cheap prices that make you think why don’t they simply give things away for free already.

While on one hand, the world fuels my desires, on the other, it is urging me to give up my ambition.

The truth is, all they want is for us to give into the temptation and buy.

We are are a generation of voracious consumers. If we didn’t have to make a purchase, we’d probably find no reason to get out of bed. (Although today, we don’t even have to get out of bed to buy something.) But that’s only half the story.

The other half has something to do with desire.

My mother taught me a simple thing about desires: If you have desires, you work toward fulfilling them, and you pay for them. Herein lies the rub. While on one hand, the world fuels my desires, on the other, it is urging me to give up my ambition. But without ambition who will pay for desire? (Did you just involuntarily mumble “papa”?)

We live in a world that is slowly making ambition a bad word. It is telling me not to work, it’s romanticising weekends, hating on Mondays, glorifying quitting, giving up, throwing in the towel. Sometime during the beginning of the decade, it became fashionable to hate on Mondays. Forwards like “After Tuesday, even the week reads WTF” became hugely popular. Working hard, doing a routine nine-to-five job, was frowned up. You needed to find yourself, be yourself, and not be a “slave”. Eighty-hour weeks were for losers.

Taking a sabbatical became fashionable at first, then it became a necessity. “Go out there, see the world,” Pinterest urged us. Take a break year, or at least a quarter. Apart from the internet, Bollywood played a huge role in asking us to work less, party hard. 3 Idiots portrayed the nerd as the loser and the genius as the aspirational one.

But it forgot to send us an important memo: Most of us aren’t geniuses. That we need to work hard. If everyone followed their heart, who would sell insurance?

Imtiaz Ali added fuel to the fire with Tamasha where Ranbir Kapoor goes from having a successful corporate life to a successful dream-like life. Only because working hard, all clean-shaven and dressed in formals, isn’t “him”. And this isn’t just a desi phenomenon. F.R.I.E.N.D.S. portrays Ross – the only person with a meaningful job – as the proverbial loser while Joey and Phoebe, who are perennially broke, are the cool cats. Over the years, hard work has become synonymous with selling out. Ambition has become evil.

But how can we have desires without ambition? Isn’t that dangerous? Shouldn’t we buy only what we can, and if possible only what we need? Why is there such a strange dichotomy between desire and ambition? Here are some low-hanging fruits for an answer: We don’t need to earn or save because our parents have, we aren’t planning families or children either.

These are the obvious ones. A question so important needs more probing. When asked why he attempted to climb the Everest, Edmund Hillary simply said, “Because it’s there.” Basically, the answer lies in availability. The “Pepsi Thi. Pi Gaya” campaign exemplifies this best. I wanted it, I got it, I had it. Simple. What’s wrong with that? Where’s the guilt? Or the shame? That “it was available” is reason enough to have it. Plus if it’s available on a discount why shouldn’t I have it? I am not spending money, I am saving it, don’t you see? I need to save because I am not making money. I’m making nothing because I am not getting a job. Clearly, the lack of ambition is also a function of availability.

What we want (desires) is available. What we need (jobs) isn’t. And the grapes have turned sour. Since we aren’t getting any jobs, we’re telling ourselves we’d rather not have them in the first place. And we’re trying to convince those who have them, that they shouldn’t. Facing the truth? We didn’t sign up for that. So, we’ve convinced ourselves working itself is evil.

There was only one option left. Blame the government. That, however, has recently become a crime – and in some circles, even blasphemy. We all know how that ends.

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