(Screenshot. Definition courtesy Google.)
We can talk about the differences between wants and needs all we want, but this concept seems too elementary and does not coincide with our advanced discussions in class. Therefore, when I speak of the necessities of life, I am referring to the things that we need to be socially accepted and to function properly in the 21st century. So, for example, while we do not need to wear clothes to breathe and survive, it would be frowned upon in society not to wear any (...right?). Likewise, even though we do not need a computer to keep us alive in the literal sense, we do need it to function in a world that is constantly dynamic in technological advancements.
It goes without saying that desire is a part of human nature, so it is an absolute necessity of human existence. The things that each individual desires varies from one another, but the factors that influence these desires are the same. There are three that automatically come to mind: advertisements, status, and friends.
(Photo courtesy NYT.com)
Advertisements. We cannot get away from them. In fact, according to Yankelovich, a market research firm, it is estimated that we see 5,000 advertisements every day, so it is inevitable that they influence us to desire certain items based on who they model and/or the message they associate with the product. Advertisements lead us to think that if we buy X, then we will be/be like Y. People will also have certain perceptions of us, which introduces us to the influence of status.
(Photo courtesy Wikipedia)
Status plays a significant role in the things we want. We yearn for things because we want to look a certain way to the people around us. It is a way to categorize ourselves by social class. It builds self-confidence and adds value (or at least we think it does) to our lives. These are some reasons why people care about buying certain name brand clothes and cars.
(Photo courtesy Engadget.com)
Friends (no, not the sitcom, your actual friends) also have a say in the things we want. They are judgmental of our belongings, and we want their approvals because they are the people in our lives that matter and with whom we come in contact the most. Ultimately, it is human nature to want our peers’ approvals and even want them to envy us because we generally put their opinions above all else’s.
My Examples: The Three C's
Basic necessity is just as it sounds; it is the basic foundation for the things that we need, but it is also the basic foundation for the things that we want. Think of them in terms of categories. What do we need to live and to be socially accepted today? I thought of three things with which the majority of people in today’s society can agree: cell phones, clothes, and college degrees. All of these things have evolved to being essential parts of life in the 21st century. They are my three chosen categories of basic necessities.
In regards to cell phones, the type of phone to buy is our want. Sleek Apple ads convince us to buy the latest iPhone so that we are part of the "elitist" Apple community which has accrued celebrity status but is also attainable by ordinary people, such as our friends.
Likewise, the name brands of clothes/accessories are our wants. Louis Vuitton is a great example. The ads tell us that this brand symbolizes the highest social class. If our close friends have it, then we want it because we strive to be greater than or equal to our peers (see, friends influencing friends).
Lastly, and most importantly, we want to go to the best college when it comes to our college degrees. We treat educational institutions like name brands. The school where we get our degrees is indicative of our levels of education because our socially constructed world told us so. Not only that, but the type of degree that we earn must also be considered "useful" by our discourse communities.
I will make a bold statement and say that all of desire is socially constructed, whether it is explicit or whether it requires some explanation. Even the desire for my great grandmother's ring is socially constructed although it is an object of sentimental value. When I was given her ring by my aunt, she told me not to tell any of my cousins that I had it. Why? Because my cousins wanted it not only for its sentimental value, but also for its status : "I want this ring because it means whoever has it must be someone special within the family."
How much of our desires is socially constructed to you?
ASB. "Needs versus wants." YouTube. Video.
Story, Louise. "Anywhere the Eye Can See, It's Likely to See an Ad." NYT. Website.
"What is a discourse community?" UCF. Website.