Comment invited some of our contributors to respond to the following questions:
What is the purchase you have made in the past 12 months that you value most? Can you trace the “watershed” of this purchase (the way school children trace the origin and journey of their tap water) and identify the retailers, wholesale distributors, importers, manufacturers, designers, inventors and others to whom you owe a debt of gratitude for this good product or service? What do you think are the bigger forces (such as common belief, social infrastructure or cultural practice) that make it possible for this “market ecology” to work to your benefit?
Here are some of the responses we received.
We live in a wired age. Technological progress was once primarily for the elite. Now, using low-cost devices, most of us can do things that were unimaginable less than a decade ago. I received an iTouch—a glorified iPod with WiFi capability. My wife bought it through Amazon and our regular UPS guy dropped it off at our doorstep in two days. Steve Jobs gets all the credit and money, while the faceless team that developed the iTouch remains just that: faceless.
—Calvin Chin, New York, New York
I grew up in a home where hospitality was a priority, but during my university years, spent in tiny apartments, hosting was difficult, if not impossible. At one such place I remember a larger-than-expected showing which pushed us out to the one place where there was more room—the roof. I’m not sure what the neighbours thought.
This changed when I bought my first home. Large public spaces, including a green grassy yard, have made hospitality possible on a grander scale. Sunday soup, backyard dinners and theatre in the living room are back on the menu. No regrets.
—Brian Harskamp, Hamilton, Ontario
I cannot think of any one thing I’ve purchased in the last 12 months that I value very highly. That includes even my new computer. I’ve gotten to the point in my life where buying things rarely gives me as much satisfaction as spending my money on experiences, or traveling to be with people I love, or supporting creative projects to which I have a close attachment. The purchased experience that I valued most was the course on the theology of food that I wrote about in my June 19 Comment column. There were very few manufacturers or retailers involved (a few farmers, local food markets, authors and book publishers), which is perhaps one of the reasons I got so much pleasure out of it. The whole thing was very close to the land. Of course there is more to the “market ecology” that made this course possible—the houses we lodged in, the ferry transportation, the educational infrastructure of Regent College, and so forth.
—Rosie Perera, Vancouver, British Columbia
Let me offer two very different purchases.
First, the purchase that I use most is an iPod Touch. What makes the “market ecology” work is the power of the platform—what it enables others to do. For example, MityMic created a field recording microphone, which, when paired with the Voxie Pro recording app, lets me record a podcast interview anywhere. Skype enables unlimited calling (from a WiFi connection) throughout the US or Canada for $2.95/month. The Kindle app allows me to carry the ESV with me, and an on-board dictionary improves my vocabulary daily. Oh, and it plays music too.
Second, I purchased a fair trade soccer ball for my daughter. The rubber is sustainably grown, the adult laborers are paid a living wage, and an integrated micro-loan program enables them to create new small businesses in Pakistan. And the founder took time out of his schedule to tell the human story to my podcast audience. It was a very human, healthy and satisfying transaction.
—Graham Scharf, New York, New York
My most valued purchase during the past year was five airline tickets from Grand Rapids to Calgary. Researchers who study happiness suggest that experiences generate more long-term happiness than things. These five tickets allowed my family to experience two wonderful weeks of hiking God’s beautiful creation in the Canadian Rockies and generated memories we will never forget. The ability to take such a trip is only possible due to the work of thousands of people. I owe a debt of gratitude to airplane designers and manufacturers, pilots and flight attendants, security personnel and a variety of hoteliers and restaurateurs. And friendly relations between the USA and Canada made things easier at every turn.
—Todd Steen, Holland, Michigan
My most prized purchase in the past 12 months is my Amazon Kindle 2. I subscribe to a New York Times feed, which I update throughout the day, and enjoy reading books on the device and researching books online. The competitive advantage for the Kindle is the wireless format (lifetime 3G network), which allows users to make purchases on Amazon.com and download them nearly instantaneously. Since Amazon is so secretive, tracing the supply chain is difficult. The company doesn’t confirm where the device is manufactured or what revenue-sharing arrangements exist. One firm estimates material and manufacturing costs at US$185 for a device that currently sells for US$299.
—John Terrill, Seattle, Washington
Our most valuable purchase was an ovulation kit that indicated we might be able to conceive a child during a certain window in mid-March. Sure enough, after several years of desiring another child and many prayers offered by friends and family on our behalf, we did indeed conceive, and our little girl is due December 1. Praise God!
—Bruce Wydick, San Francisco, California