Whether we like it or not, appearances do matter. This is not a self-interested plea aimed at urging my readers to buy something from my Webshop (although I am of course happy to provide you with
one of my finest writing implements!). Rather, it is intended as a statement of fact and a talking point. For better or for worse, with every
step that we take into the world, we are being observed and, sadly, judged by our peers. Our mothers may well have taught us that "it's what is inside that matters", but this is unlikely to
impress our future boss into giving us a new position or persuade the new bank manager into giving us a large loan. Attention to our appearance is a vital part of living in today's society.
This has me thinking about items that we wear and use on a daily basis. Standing out from the crowd is not easy and yet we still strive to do so, ironically, by purchasing many of the same items that we see others using and wearing. The inevitable consequence: In our attempt to differentiate ourselves from others, we end up looking even more like those who surround us. As the crowd chanted together to Brian's mother in "The life of Brian" (a film by the Monty Python collective), "Yes, we're all individuals!"
Henry Ford famously stated that "you can have any color as long as it's black." Things certainly have evolved since 1909 but, in our modern, so-called free market, we choose (or, some might say, are forced to choose) between Samsung and iPhone, PC and Mac, Coke or Pepsi, Android or iOS, manual or automatic. Cars of course offer a little more choice, but on the highways of Germany we all seem to be riding in the chariots of the same 5 or 6 manufacturers, with each model looking like last year's or the competitor's bestseller. Similarly, our houses or apartments all suffer from acute cases of Ikea-itis, with everyone owning or having owned a Billy bookshelf. The list goes on.
This isn't the consequence of a lack of choice, for we have many. The culprit is the uniformity of choice, with each product resembling the other. Because of this, we have been conditioned into
desiring what we are being told to desire, rather than being allowed to truly follow our innermost instincts. If we need a new car, we must choose a car that looks like one. Need a new phone?
Then you must buy a phone that looks like a phone. Begone, spirit of original design and function! From a manufacturer's point of view, this is understandable: Investing in originality, in
something "far out", diverse and unique is a major risk few are willing to take. With each manufacturer not wishing to risk too much, they stick to the "definite winners" of the past. Why
reinvent the wheel, after all?
Most of us cannot afford full wardrobes of handmade shoes and clothes, nor do we have the time to perpetually be on the lookout for a unique Je ne sais quoi for every day of the week, but "God is in the detail" as the expression would have it. It is the small nuances, the tiny accents and the wonderful personal touch that highlight our own individuality, that free us and that set us aside from the crowd.
I'd like to conclude on an optimistic note: In a world like today's, a genuine smile, a kind disposition and a well-groomed appearance are the one true way to set yourself apart from the crowd. That said, a nice handcrafted pen certainly doesn't hurt. :-)