My son is obsessed with getting a new smart phone. He’s 12 years-old, has recently started high school and was given a second-hand phone for emergency use. Most days now our conversations start with him asking me if he can have my phone or some other variation on any one of a number of ideas that result in him getting a newer phone.
‘Dad’, he says, ‘you’ve never ever bought me a phone before.’ This is true. His mother gave him a second-hand phone that was gifted to her. So in fact no one has bought him a phone. But does a 12 year-old really need the latest and most expensive phone? In his mind the answer is yes. In my mind the answer is no. ‘Dad’, he says, ‘if you worked harder you could upgrade to a new phone sooner and then I could have your old phone.’ He forgets his older sister is next in line. She’s been using the same older model phone as his for much longer and has never once complained. In my mind she is much more likely to get my current phone should I decided to upgrade.
This conversation has become a regular dance between us with him hoping at some point I will cave in and throw my current phone at him (not literally though he would be ready to catch it). With this in mind I’m now more and more ready each day with a different outlook for him. Rather than indulging his scenarios I’ve taken to answering obtusely. Here is an example.
‘Dad,’ he says, ‘the new iPhone will be out in October, you should upgrade. Then you could give your old phone to one of your children and buy a new older model for the other child. The slightly older models will be cheaper then.’
‘I see,’ I say. ‘I think I’ll just buy your sister a new phone and keep my old one. I’m happy with it.’
‘What about me?’ he asks indignantly.
‘Well the thing is,’ I say, ‘less is more and more is less.’
‘What?’ he asks awash with confusion.
‘The more you ask me the less likely you are to get a new phone. Constantly asking me is annoying and so asking more will get you less. Your sister never asks. She doesn’t annoy me about getting a new phone so in that case less will become more.’
‘That’s not fair,’ he says.
‘No,’ I say, ‘you’re right, it’s not fair. Not fair that I should have to have the same conversation over and over. The more you ask the less you will get. The less you ask, the more likely you are to get what you want. I acknowledge your request for a new phone but just so we are clear, every time you remind me, what I will be hearing is ‘dad take longer’. Less is more and more will get you less. Ok?’
‘But dad?’ he says.
‘It’s your choice my boy.’ And choice is actually what I would like to give him. Not the choice between the latest models of smart phone, but a choice not to suffer unnecessarily. A choice not to have the idea in his mind that his life is somehow incomplete without a very expensive product. There are enough struggles and challenges ahead without having to spend time and energy desiring a product that is created, packaged and marketed with such relentless seductiveness. As these products are almost completely irresistible to adults I can’t blame my son for being caught by the shiny glint of such an object of desire. I’m somewhat unsure if I will achieve my goal of helping him be free from this relentless and self-inflicted struggle. A struggle that is turning out to be a defining characteristic of our time. I feel like I’ve only recently overcome it myself.
In a very practical way wanting less does free you to have more things of value in your life. The time spent desiring objects becomes available to you for use in pursing more meaningful things. Perhaps I’m expecting too much from my son just now, but regardless I will keep answering his call for a new phone with my own pre-recorded message.
More is less and less is more.
Author - Road To Nowhere