Pretension

We often judge others by the machinery they own. I submit that it’s true of the cars they drive. For instance, I am quite certain that two people who are otherwise virtually identical would be viewed quite differently if one of them drove a Hyundai Accent and the other a Porsche 911 Carrera S Cabriolet. The Hyundai driver, compared to the Porsche driver, would be judged as less affluent, more reserved, less of a risk-taker, and more modest. Conversely, the Porsche driver would be seen as more affluent, more flamboyant, more adventurous, and more egotistical.

Now, if both of these hypothetical people drove Porsche 911 Carrera S Cabriolets, one car white and the other red, observers would view the driver of the red car as more flamboyant, more adventurous, and more egotistical. I’m not sure about whether color would translate into assessments of affluence. Actually, I not sure about any of this. But I’m quite confident that my perspectives are on track with reality.

It’s not just cars, either. The same thing applies to household appliances. Take, for example, the devices coffee-drinkers choose to make their coffee. Most of us would view a person whose morning brew comes from a Miele CVA 6805 built-in coffee machine with bean-to-cup system differently than we might view someone whose coffee leaks from a ten-year-old Keurig machine. And we might ascribe still different attributes to a Mr. Coffee aficionado. We would probably ascribe the following characteristics to the Miele owner:

  • arrogant, grandstanding braggart
  • obscenely, unjustly affluent
  • name-dropping pretentious snob

Hmmm. Perhaps you wouldn’t be so blatantly biased in your assessment of the Miele owner. The question arises, doesn’t it, of whether my assessment might be related to envy and blind resentment? But let’s get beyond that, shall we? What about how we see the Keurig owner? Some of us might assume he’s lazy and can’t discriminate between French roast and green tea. Others, like me, might assume he hates to waste good coffee and would rather drink a single cup of mediocre French roast than brew an entire pot of what could be the world’s richest, most spectacular coffee, the majority of which would be thrown out.

And what of the fan of Mr. Coffee? Some people would assume he; does not have a discriminating palate; is not particularly affluent; doesn’t drink much coffee; and/or thrives of his self-described persona as “the common man.”

Reality speak to the legitimacy, or lack thereof, of our machinery-based judgments. While some of our biased assessments might have a modicum of validity, most probably do not. But we let ourselves judge people on the basis of factors utterly unrelated to their personalities or behaviors. We don’t need to know anything more about a person than the car she drives or the equipment she uses to make coffee to begin painting, in our own minds, a portrait of her personality.

What do we do when confronted with facts that, taken separately, say one thing but, taken together, say another? For example, the Miele coffee maker owner who drives a fifteen-year-old white Hyundai Accent? Or the Porsche Carrera driver who makes her coffee with a fifteen-year-old Mr. Coffee machine?  The incongruencies are almost limitless. The guy with the Miele who uses Folgers coffee. The Mr. Coffee owner who, with his Krups grinder, grinds custom-roasted Ethiopian yirgacheffe beans every morning. The Porsche owner who relies on GasBuddy to find the cheapest regular, low-octane gasoline.

For the record, I used to buy expensive, freshly-roasted coffee bean blends and grind just each morning enough to make a small pot. Now, I pop a recyclable pod (just to clarify my stance on treating the planet well) of San Francisco Bay brand French roast coffee into my old Keurig most mornings. The flavor isn’t as good as the freshly-roasted beans, but it’s good enough. And I am able to make just enough; I don’t drink a lot of coffee. Laziness does factor into it, though. If I wanted better flavor badly enough, I’d use an Aero Press; but the preparation and the clean-up are more involved than I’d like.  But when I have a cup of coffee, expertly brewed from freshly-ground beans, I almost decide to repent by vowing to grind and brew and to discard the Keurig. But “almost” is never enough.

And, inasmuch as I’m revealing things about myself that might factor in to the way you judge me, let me reveal this: I drive a 17-year-old Toyota Camry. When we drive together, I drive my wife’s car (I prefer to drive and she prefers that I drive), a three-year-old Subaru Outback.

I could go on and on, of course. Not just about cars and coffee but about computers and televisions and smart-phones and stereo equipment (do they still call it stereo?).  I recall, even when I was in college, watching eyes bulge when someone would claim ownership of a Marantz or Pioneer turntable. I never knew much about them, personally. But stereo gear was associated with status; I knew that much. Today, the most expensive turntable, according to Mother Google, is the Av Design Haus’ Dereneville VPM 2010-1, valued at $650,000. At some point, pretension comes with an unreasonable cost.

I’ve limited my comments here to machinery. I could launch into a lengthy tirade on other matters involving how we judge one another (and ourselves). Like wine. A simple bottle of wine. Valued at hundreds or thousands of dollars. What?! WHAT?!

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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