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What do we really want?

April 26, 2010

And therefore, what do we really need?


Always wanting something else, something better seems to be the driving force behind the continues waste caused by mankind. But what do we really need? And therefore, what do we really want? This is a question that is wandering through my mind for a long time now.

Purpose of this research.
Nowadays the world exists of choices and options. Due to this tremendous offer of preferences we don’t know which way to go. This freedom, our freedom can get in the way, literally. Because we have the freedom to choose everything and do everything, we can do anything we want without feeling liable… 

Some say that this freedom is the cause of many problems we come across today. The Dutch philosopher Ad Verbrugge states that unattached freedom destructs our social relationships and trust in society, due to its effect of not feeling personally accountable.[1] A powerful metaphor to describe this derailed freedom is the “thick-I “. The philosopher Harry Kunneman designed this grotesque figure, for which freedom mainly consists of the fact that there is no responsibility anymore; you only have to answer to yourself.[2]
But what happens if we only answer to our self? Jean-Paul Sartre wrote that “we are doomed to freedom”.[3] This may sound a bit negative, but we all relate to the restless feeling when you ask yourself: Is this the life I want to lead? Is this the job I want? The person I love? Just because you can ask yourself these questions, expectations are high about the answer. But because there is no reply, you just keep asking…
Therefore, without an accurate estimation of our needs, and simultaneously what we’re being in want of, we are lost. As a result we have to figure out what it is we need and therefore want, assuming these two things correspond. 

Research methods.
What is it that people need? To find an answer to this question there are different kinds of techniques to consider. To collect the data for this research, a survey is a good start. With this method you can collect a reasonable amount of information in a relatively short time.[4]
For a more thorough exploration of these needs interviews are another effective method. To conduct these interviews there is an interesting technique to apply, this method is called ‘probing’ and consists of asking questions on image based thoughts. Probing can bring both superficial associations as well as deeper associations, which were initially concealed, to the surface. When the interviewed talks in a metaphorically way about products or services, unconscious feelings and thoughts are more easily transferred to the conscious. One way to encourage this is the Zaltman Metaphor Elicitation Technique. With this technique the study participants are asked prior to a one-on-one interview to thoroughly think about their thoughts and feelings on a given subject, and find pictures that represent those thoughts and feelings. The interview is then taken on the basis of these images.[5]

While creating these images the respondent is, during this specific research, asked to use a method developed during a personal inspirational journey of ‘the obvious’. While deciding what it is that you need, it is worth to take a closer look and think about what it is that you see or use everyday, but take for granted. If you try to put this in a new perspective it can create an entire different meaning.

For this particular research it is wise to narrow down the direction of the research to achieve a more concise result. Therefore you see that the focal point, in the survey as well as the interview, lies on the need of purchasing clothing,

Research analysis.
In order to make this research more interesting, two different study groups are chosen. Due to this the question is not only why and when people buy something new, but also if there is a difference between males and females. The study participants are twenty males and females, ages twenty till thirty. They all received the same survey. The questions consisted of how often, for how much en why the purchase new clothing. A noticeable difference comes to the surface in relation to why they buy new clothing. For women the urge seems to be the driving force, where men say that the change of season or the fact that their size changes are the main reason why they need new clothing.

Nevertheless, whether they indicate that they buy something new because they just can not get rid of that urge, or they think its justified because ‘the season changes’, in both cases the participants admit that if it comes down to it, they don’t really think they need it. 

Furthermore, differences are found in the startling fact that the women almost never think the really need, where man say that they at least sometimes need it. This can relate to the fact that some women confess to the fact that they always have the feeling they need something new, but in reality they know this is not based on realistic thoughts.

After this, one out of each research group participates in an indepth interview. Furthermore, they describe their feelings relative to purchasing new clothing. This description consists of words and images. As a result it becomes clear why they need, or think they need, to constantly buy new clothing. Where the female participant quickly recognises that her purchases are more based on emotion then on ratio, the male participant tries to hold on to the thought that his purchases are bases on ratio. On the other hand, both participants name a few things that give them the same satisfaction as purchasing new clothes. Whether it is the love of their family, an intimate talk with their partner, having a drink and laugh with their friends, it comes down to a combination of attention and taking the time to spend some quality time with one another.

So, do we always need the things we buy? No, not even close. On the other hand, most of the study participants seem to know they do not actually need the things, but still they can not get rid of the urge. Therefore, the participants of the interview could relate to the fact that that ‘urge’ they have and simultaneously that ‘satisfaction’ they get, when the purchase is made, are not based on realistic feelings. So during their search for things near to them that give them that same satisfaction, they discovered a few things that could replace the actual purchase. Furthermore, they thought more thoroughly about why they actually think they need new things and if they can satisfy this urge in another way.

Is it therefore fair to say that since there are evidently more ways to soothe this restless feeling, the need to constantly purchase new things can be satisfied in other ways. In this case those other ways are found in the closeness of family and friends. When it comes down to it the quality of that moment, instead of the actual purchase, is the most important.

[1] Leon Heuts, Een leven zonder bindingen, 2010

[2] Harry Kunneman, Voorbij het dike-ik, 2005

[3] Jean Paul Sartre, Existentialism is a Humanism, 1946

[4] Foeke van der Zee, Online enquêteren, 2009

[5] Gerald Zaltman, How customers think, 2003

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