Category Archives: Valuing Things

The Value of an Object (or You)

This question of value that we have been discussing throughout the semester in regard to objects and how they relate to the human influences around them is one that I have decided has no singular conclusion. In a former blog post, I used Graham Hill's TED Talk on the relationship between possession accumulation and stress to attempt to highlight the problems that can arise by attaching too much value to something like an inanimate object in conjunction with having a focus on accumulation of objects as possessions. While I do think that there is good value in forming sentimental bonds and emotional attachments to objects, I also believe that assigning too much value can have a detrimental effect on happiness. For example, I have a friend who loves expensive shoes. They have more shoes than I could possibly imagine being able to wear in one year unless there were multiple midday swaps. However, this habit of accumulation has actually substantially increased the levels of stress in this person's life because if there is a stretch of time where no new shoes have been bought, they become very anxious and I will find them pouring through Pintrest and Etsy in search of the perfect pair of shoes to calm the mounting storm of anxiety. Recently, with our discussions of material culture in mind, I tried to (very delicately) ask my friend why expensive shoes are such a huge part of their life and if they think that their need to accumulate them alleviates or adds to their stress levels. They very candidly told me that it definitely adds stress. However, they made the point that they have become known amongst our friends, co-workers, and peers as the person with the "kick ass" sense of style and they start to feel like they are stagnating if they do not continue to accumulate possessions that reflect this perception of them. This then led to a discussion on what the relevance is between self-esteem and material possessions. The result of that conversation was that we both agreed that everyone has at least some facet of the tendency to attach value to objects and that this perceived value affects their social psychology.



(These shoes made by Versace will run you about $2,000. Would owning these bring you pleasure or stress from the cost? Even if you can afford it, what do $2,000 shoes do for you? Photo courtesy of Versace.)

I guess where I'm going with all this is that there is a definite, perceptible relationship between the value that we assign objects and the value that we assign to ourselves - whether we decide to acknowledge it at varying levels or not. So, when we buy a new car, gadget, or doorknob I believe there is a part of the psyche that assigns greater value to ourselves with that new acquisition. Disregarding any moral or ethical cultural judgment that could be discerned from that notion, this idea of "value" that has been discussed throughout the semester is something that can be studied and measured through the analysis of spending habits, stress levels, and the impact of things like media and advertisement on the consumer culture. Hill's TED Talk on the relationship between stress and the need to accumulate possessions is only one of many sources that can be referenced. Kinneavy, Kilmer, Prown, and Roberts all argue aspects of why objects and material things have such an impact on our culture and psychology.

The Meaning of Value

There was a brief group analysis done in a study, and the question that was asked was each person valued. While answers differed among each individual, there was one commonality, which was that value did not always hold a monetary significance. So, it can be said that value is based on the importance of one’s emotions.

Your values are the things that you believe are important in the way you live and work. They (should) determine your priorities, and, deep down, they're probably the measures you use to tell if your life is turning out the way you want it to.

Our values are our greatest motivations for which we spend our time, and sometimes, money on. I guess, personally for me, the value of human life is what I choose to absorb into my life. Our life is like a treasure box in which we’re constantly adding meaningful objects, people, and memories into; removing harmful or toxic people at the same time. But in the end, they all leave some type of mark, and it makes our life story more interesting.



There is a form of Japanese art where they take a broken bowl or a vase, and “glue” them back together with gold. The idea behind this theory is that repairing this broken pottery makes it much more beautiful for having been broken. Instead of disguising its cracks, it instead embraces them. Instead of getting thrown away, it now becomes an object of value because of its history and strength.

So basically, we give things value. Knowledge is important, but we give value towards education. I feel like knowledge is common sense, and it’s something we are all capable of, but we put a price on it making it something of value. As Ty mentioned on her post; we heavily influence how valuable something becomes. A plain t-shirt might sell better if a celebrity endorses the t-shirt, thus helping it to sell for over hundreds of dollars. So, the value of life, education, or things, is what we bring into it.

What Does Value Mean to you?

Before taking this course if someone asked me the value of anything I would have more than likely immediately thought of it from a monetary standpoint. Now I see things completely different. Many things in this life you simply can't put a price on. No amount of money in world can measure up to the value of some things.

In my opinion there is not just one correct definition for "value". Value holds a ton of different meanings that vary from person to person. My definition of value would be how something or someone makes you FEEL. The price of the object has absolutely nothing to do with its true value I feel. This is where people sometimes get lost and lose touch with what really matters. Many people think money money money when in reality that's not what truly matters. Lets take human life for example. There is no amount of money on the face of this earth that could be traded for human life. Human life is priceless and holds a value that is unattainable with any amount of money. I think I can speak for everyone when I say human life is quite valuable. Ironically however it is the things that are priceless that many people take for granted like human life!!

Now there are things in this life that are quite expensive and yet hold value beyond the amount of money spent on it. A great example of this would be education. I am a firm believer of the old saying "knowledge is power". Unfortunately knowledge comes at a steep price. We spend loads and loads of money to obtain a college degree in order to have a "better life". The very life that is precious and holds such a high value. Although we grunt and despise spending all of this money the knowledge gained and what we as individuals can concur utilizing it is its true value.

At the end of the day the value of something or someone is what you make of it. It is quite relative. An old rusty watch could appear to hold no significant to one person but be priceless to the next. That rusty watch could have tons of sweet precious memories of a loved one attached to it or a beautiful history behind it. These factors are what determines the value of something or someone. Things that can't be replaced and memories that can't be duplicated are what makes something priceless.

Listen to your heart when determining the value not the price.

The Value of Change

I was struck by the first question posed for this prompt. "What is the value of a human life?" Upon first consideration, my response was naturally, Oh, well it's priceless. Life, human life, is a mysterious blessing wrapped in a curse (or vice versa) that each of us will spend our entire life unraveling. No matter what angle you take, you cannot put a value on human life--it is beyond value.

Well, that's fine and dandy in the glossy idealist world that seems to reside in my head, it does not hold much stock outside of it. Let's consider the definition of value described in this prompt: " Value, with a capital "v," is a composite of the intrinsic value inherent in an object, the value that has been assigned to the object by others, and the value that we ourselves assign to it." What I seemed to be describing to myself only encompasses the first of these three (with a strong hint of my own personal views). I was only considering life as viewed as life. Without factoring in the other two perspectives, this is a very narrow and flawed definition. The reality of the matter is that it not only depends who is being asked the question, but also in regards to what life. There are plenty of people in the world who believe that every single life is sacred and to be cherished and treated with the utmost respect--something similar to the perspective I had first envisioned. There are also plenty of people who may claim to have this perspective . . . until that person has committed a crime. There are also, unfortunately, many people who believe there are lives that are inherently less valuable than others, and do not have the ability to change this.

It would seem that, based on these explanation, that a human life is very much like an object. The value of said life is a collection of opinions based on themselves, others, and one's inherent value. The only difference being that a human may have the ability to actively change the value of their own life. For those who believe certain people have a lower, fixed, immutable value, these people do not see those lives as anything more than objects--and still, the considered lives still have the ability to change the views of those offering judgement. In this way, beings with life and consciousness have a value that an object can never have, and that lies in the ability to affect change. The value of an education is very much a part of this. An education provides the tools for enacting change. Depending on the education, be it a major in English, job training, or knowing how to plant a garden, these all endow the ability to affect change on different areas of life and the world around us.

Ideally, this is the road we will take to achieving "thriving planetary ecology." While I cannot say whether this phrase is anything more than an unattainable, Sisyphean goal, the tools for change are what will allow us to get there. The value of a world where all life thrives, resources are renewed, and natural homeostasis is achieved is, well, it is the value of everything. It is the lump sum of all we know--life, objects, and the world itself. It sounds a bit lofty, but hopefully, this is the value we not only wish to see in the world, but in ourselves as well.

Blog Post #8: Valuing Things

In your responses to Blog Post #7, many of you considered how objects acquire value and the different metrics according to which we measure the value of things. For example, Ty originated this thread with her post in which she considers George E. Newman's article, "Celebrity Contagion and the Value of Objects":

So celebrities matter and it seems like they do have a fair say on what is in style and what is not. It's an interesting idea to keep in mind that objects that seem like they may not have any practical value or even any sentimental value to you may be a very different scenario for someone else. It is not just you who attributes value to an object but society as a whole.

Like it or not, it looks like Kim Kardashian and Beyonce will be attributing value to common objects for quite a while.

Arguably, the "celebrity contagion" that interests Ty--through which objects become valuable because they are associated with celebrities--is spread via advertising, a phenomenon that Karina explored in her post:

The time immediately before the creation of Swamp Root was the period of the Scientific Revolution. People were fascinated with new technology and inventions. With technological advances came new medicine and new media, and for some cases like Kilmer’s, ways that media advertise these medicines.

The ways in which credibility was added to this artifact relied heavily on advertisements. Some people made jokes that may have had some truth to it—that is, people recognized Kilmer’s face better than the President of the United States. In essence, the Kilmer family had relations to a salesman who used his skills to help Dr. Kilmer. He then became one of the biggest faces for “these self-proclaimed ‘miracle drugs’ known as patent medicines in the 19thcentury” (Ribaudo). He took the opportune time when germ theory was little known by making unaccredited claims for Swamp Root, which then was a quick “cure” for pretty much any kind of discomfort.

Both Ty and Karina emphasize the somewhat arbitrary nature of value, as something that is bestowed on an object, rather than something that is inherent in a thing. Alex looked at the problem of value from a different angle, noting how objects retain their inherent value, even though time and innovation may erode our memory or sense of that value:

While objects hold many personal or societal functions, objects such as the toothbrush can represent breakthroughs and achievements in human development. While toothbrushes may seem ordinary to us now, this sort of innovation has been developed after millennia of inconvenience, pain, and disease. Take, as another example, the Aleve you may keep in your medicine cabinet (or maybe somewhere even more frequented). While we may pop a couple of these pain-relievers following a hangover or a sore back, NSAIDs hold a power people have wrought over for lifetimes. Fevers were often fatal before modern medicine, but now almost every house stocks a simple suppressant for these killers, and at a price almost anyone can afford.

What I think I am getting at is the idea of objects having hidden, or maybe forgotten values. Time seems to quell the appreciation we have for certain objects, but they retain that value regardless.

So Alex considers value of the object as object, and Karina and Ty consider the value of the object for others. Both the value of the object as object, and the value of the object for others influence one's sense of Value (we'll use a capital letter to distinguish it). But what about the value of the object to/for oneself; what does that contribute to the Value (with a capital "V") of the object? This is a question regarding which the posts of You Na, Kacey, and Katherine are all relevant.

You Na, for example, discussed research that suggests we Value things more when we feel a physical or personal connection to them:

A study in 2008 by the Journal of Judgement and Decision Making revealed that people who held onto a mug for 30 seconds before bidding for it in an auction, offered an average of 83 cents more for it than people who held the mug for 10 seconds. This brings us to another idea that our tendency to love objects goes beyond the soft and cuddly. We also form a connection with an object based on its texture. The study also found that people who loved the feel of a squishy gripped pen preferred this particular pen compared to another similar pen without the squishy grip.

And Kacey and Katherine both explored how our individual "value meters" are calibrated by personal experience. Kacey found evidence that suggests too many possessions can become overwhelming, and rather than improving our quality of life can in fact detract from it by overtaxing our mental and financial resources:

In this TED Talk given by writer and designer Graham Hill, he makes the argument that the increased cultural trend towards "more" has actually become detrimental to us. He says that, according to research compared with past decades, Americans have more room, more stuff, more of a carbon footprint, and more stress. So, why is it stressful to have more possessions? Hill's argument is, essentially, debt and energy. He says that an increased desire for material wealth leads to reckless spending (which results in debt) and the wasting of huge amounts of resources and energy. Hill concludes that the only way to truly rectify this issue is to commit to reducing our dependence on material things and to engage in what he calls "ruthless editing" to remove the superfluous - and possibly damaging - items.

Katherine also examined the "less is more" argument, asking "How many toys do children need?"

When children are given every toy they want, they do not have to worry about going without.  Since they know there is always a replacement, they do not worry about caring for objects. Perhaps that habit carries over into adulthood, which could explain why most adults own so much.  I even think the imagination aspect applies to adults.  Most of us will be extremely bored if we do not have some technology to keep us entertained.  Many people reward themselves with shopping, a habit that is considered undesirable in adulthood, yet adults reward their children with toys all the time.

Drawing upon these contributions together, we might hypothesize that Value, with a capital "v," is a composite of the intrinsic value inherent in an object, the value that has been assigned to the object by others, and the value that we ourselves assign to it. This framework for thinking about value mirrors in thought-provoking ways the tripartite composite self Kinneavy describes in our reading from "Expressive Discourse." Value, with a capital "v," might therefore be a potentially productive concept for thinking through what material culture studies discourse, which Taylor discusses in her post here, adds to rhetoric and composition studies

Carefully read or re-read the responses to prompt seven. Take some time to peruse the resources Taylor identifies in her post. Consider the questions presented by your peers, as well as Bethany's observation of how material culture studies may reveal the histories that are suppressed, hidden, or ignored in some narratives:

A big question that came to mind when watching this video is why didn't they feature more porcelain makers? Such as a Chinese producer? In all of the pieces that I have read it seems like the European countries during the 17th and 18th century just stole China's product and have been getting credit for it ever since. This comes to culmination when there is a modern video made of porcelain production and China is only mentioned in one line.

Then, compose a post in which you consider a definition of "value" that might work for how that word is used in these questions: What is the value of a human life? What is the value of an education? What is the value of a thriving planetary ecology?

Posting: Group 1

Commenting: Group 2

Category: Valuing Things

In your Blog #8 post, you should do more than offer a list of answers to these questions. Rather, you should frame your post around defining and justifying a definition of "value" that helps you to answer them. Please carefully read and follow the guidelines and posting information for this blog as they’ve been outlined in the Blog Project Description.

Image Credit: "Giant Value" by Thomas Hawk on Flickr.