Friday, August 1, 2008

Life in the ATM Mode

A blogging acquaintance of mine( I would love to have called him a friend but we have met just a couple of times !) is conducting an interesting experiment in living which interests me very much. He calls his experiment going “ off consumption” and he is doing some thing which I would love to imitate.

Gaurav Mishra is(was)- he is now a Yahoo fellow a young, single and very eligible IIM-educated, upwardly mobile marketer on the corporate fast-track in Mumbai, India’s business capital. With his education and potential he could have taken the route that most of his peers have. But then a bug bit him and for a year he decided to experiment with his life by going “ off consumption”. He would eschew materialism – if that is a good word to use, and not buy anything that was not an absolute necessity. He wanted to check out if the experiment would leave him ill-equipped to handle life and work in Mumbai or, will it leave him with invaluable insights into what drives us to consume, or not, into the nature of consumption, into human nature itself?

To quote Gaurav himself

When I passed out of IIM Bangalore six years back, and had some money for the first time, buying and owning things were important to me, if only to prove to myself that I could afford to. So, I set up a full household, acquired costly tastes, ate out five nights a week, and played host the other two nights. Basically, I spent the next six years spending as much money as I could, to make up for not having enough in the previous twenty one years.

Then, one day, I realized that I had run that race (with myself) and it had left me tired. I had already bought all the things and experiences I wanted, and even some I didn’t really want. I couldn’t really buy what I wanted anymore, because the things I wanted now could not be bought. My hierarchy of identities had changed; creating meaning, relating to people, and having life-changing experiences were more important to me now than owning things. So, I decided to stop buying things I didn’t need, go off consumption for a year, in the hope that a year of austerity would cleanse my soul.

Gaurav’s experience and experiment excites me because the conclusions that he has reached are perhaps nothing new – they are to be expected perhaps. At one level, he is a walking talking picture of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. He has seen it, been there and now wants some thing different. He wants to live a different kind of life – a simpler less cluttered life may be but still not the life of an ascetic mind you. Gaurav describes the life that is to be ideally lived as one “that fits into a backpack, so that you are free to indulge your wanderlust, to travel the world in search of meaning, maybe even walk into the wild.”

This really enthuses me for that is the kind of way I would want to live my life. It is no longer fully possible Buddha like to just do that perhaps, for most of us and that is why the last we can do is to enjoy these delights vicariously. Meanwhile, Gaurav’s motivator – Ernie the attorney sums up the lifestyle that he describes as life in the ATM Mode :

  1. Minimize the amount of stuff that requires three-dimensional presence (I have to have a house and car or scooter etc, but keep that stuff to a minimum)
  2. Maximize the use of the Internet as a source for managing personal tasks, information, bank accounts etc.
  3. Constantly ask how to accomplish these goals, and don’t be afraid to try novel approaches; but don’t get bogged down experimenting with new approaches just because someone says they have promise.

Many of these things I do. A lot more I wish I could do. And because I can’t, I wish Gaurav’s experiment all possible success.

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