I've been rediscovering YouTube recently. What I mean by that is that I've moved beyond the usual movie trailers, educational lectures and various clips of late night TV shows and news. I'm now often on the hunt for vlog-type "how to" videos.
This hunt for "how to" information, of which there is plenty, has lead to the discovery of the next generation of what are called "unboxing" videos. I hadn't seen these in a number of years and now realize how much they've changed.
My recollection of unboxing videos is of individuals recording their experience in taking a product out of its packaging to explore its features in real time. That allowed the unboxer's audience to get an no-hype-added look at a new product, including its size, features and accessories, along with the narrator's first impressions. I'd watched a number of these as I researched what camera to purchase for an upcoming safari and what smartphone to get when I needed a replacement.
Well, what an eye-opening experience it has been to stumble upon the next generation of unboxing videos. Same name, but very different content.
The new generation of videos can be summed up as this: more is more. And they're not hard to find, as the term "unboxing" apparently now has two meanings: the traditional meaning and the new consumption-on-steroids meaning.
Celebrating Unboxing Day
The new style of unboxing videos usually involve a vlogger who either is a high-intensity shopper (usually consumables such as personal and household items) or a professional who receives A LOT of public relations materials (free samples and full-sized products). They tend to save up their parcels over time and, once they have the requisite volume of twenty to forty boxes, they share their unboxing experience with their viewers.
The experience is often akin to watching a spoiled child opening far too many Christmas presents. There's the initial excitement involved in opening the first few, followed by the hum drum of opening the next ten and finally what seems like fake enthusiasm as the vlogger opens the last items after at least 10-15 minutes of this activity.
It's a new form of consumption voyeurism that I find both fascinating and revolting. On the one hand, I can't help but be curious about what might be in the boxes. But on the other hand, within a few minutes, I feel a sickness in the pit of my stomach as I ask myself:
- What will they do with all that stuff, so much stuff that there's no way one person can consume it all before either getting tired of it or before it expires/becomes obsolete?
- Are they even happy to be receiving it all?
- Where will they store all that stuff?
- Where are they getting all this money to throw out the window? (If they purchased it themselves.)
- What a waste!
What's the Rush?
I also wonder if the money spent and/or PR product requests is for the initial rush of opening the boxes or whether there's a genuine desire to have and hold the products over the long term. Increasingly, I believe it's the former because I've learned the hard way that we appreciate what we have when we have less of it. In this respect, less truly is more.
Consumerism is the acceptable designer drug of choice. We can easily get a dose of it at nearly any income level, from the thrift store, to the dollar store, to the mall, to eBay, to Amazon, to Nordstrom's, to Saks Fifth Avenue and beyond. Though it may not leave track marks or lead to overdose and death (though this can be an unfortunate consequence when high levels of debt are involved), it seems as pernicious because it can enthral to the point of apparent dependency for the buzz it creates and for the next buzz that will assuage the regret of past unboxing behaviour.
The only question that remains for me is: what is the cause of the sickness in my stomach? My hunch is that it's telling me I should review my own behaviours when it comes to consumerism as the flaws we often see in others are a reflection of our own.
I think I have some unboxing of my own to do. Hopefully there isn't too much to unpack.