Genius Material

First things first, you need to go download the Genius annotator plugin. You can annotate various items on sites you find around the Web. Like I annotated this story a little to give more information about the name “Islamic State.” I’ve annotated at least one post here. The hub of annotation, if you will, is at the Genius site. Sasha Frere-Jones, a music critic I like left The New York Times to go fulltime annotator for Genius. (If you’ve downloaded the browser plug-in, you’ll notice that story has been annotated. Of course.)

The site started out as a lyrics database/annotator. Now you can go crazy.

I’m really good at annotating Death Cab for Cutie lyrics. I’ve spent fifteen years ruminating on DCFC song meanings.

It matters to me what the song says. I can’t apply it to my life without understanding the lyrics. I don’t necessarily need to know the singer was dating this girl when he was writing this album and halfway through they broke up and it’s reflected in the playlist. That’s all fun backstory, but I’m more interested in those feelings being communicated in the song — and understanding them — to see if they seem to at all coincide with my own experiences.

I don’t just listen to music for that reason, though. Like everyone, there are times I pay attention to lyrics and times I just want to rock out or fall asleep. Music is a key part of my life. Misty turns the radio off when she drives. I don’t know how she stands it. Only rarely do I drive in silence — usually to listen for car-acting-up sounds.

How my spare-change investments through Acorns did today.
How my spare-change investments through Acorns did today.

I use this investment app called Acorns to invest my small change (the change leftover from every purchase I make on linked debit or credit cards), which has racked up around $200 in spare change, nice dividends and a forgiving, but aggressive, investment portfolio.

Anyway, Acorns sends an email each Friday with financial wisdom for the weekend. Sometimes I scan the headlines, usually I delete without opening. Today, I opened it and read a headline about something I’ve recently been mulling: It is said experiences are more valuable than material items. To wit:

They offer you happiness when you consume their products. While buying a new house, car, iPhone, or hamburger and soft drink from a fast food restaurant might satisfy you momentarily, it will not last. Experiences on the other hand, live on forever. If you spend money on experiences, as opposed to material or quantifiable items, you are going to experience much more joy and contentment in your life.

Now, here’s my issue with this line of thinking. I totally agree that it’s great to go on vacations and adventures, but I completely disagree with the notion that buying a house or a smartphone or a car is not an experience. Living in a house for years, having your phone serve as an extension of your body until you get a new one and driving are definitely experiences. Long-term experiences that involve material items.

I’d say we need to be a bit more careful about such generalities.


Continue to purchase the things you need in life. You need a place to live and a car to drive. You need certain amounts of technology. Before you acquire your next material item ask yourself if there is an experience you could be spending your money on instead.

For many, owning a place to live and a car to drive can be the most significant experience of their lives.

But here’s my favorite, I think:

Experiences are priceless while material items always have an expiration date. The house and car you buy are wonderful purchases but over time the satisfaction you receive from them is most likely going to diminish. The initial buyer’s high you get is not going to last forever.

Contrastingly, experiences will never lose their luster. Sure you spent $100 on the Mumford and Sons concert tickets, but that is an experience you will never forget.

Notice he does not address the time spent using the material items. The buyer’s high may diminish, but experiencing the usefulness, design and other factors of a product over the long-term can produce an impression that is damn-near as great/impactful as going on some package vacations. Do you know how many shows I’ve been to that I can’t remember? Like, ten.

Who’s to say I’ll remember trips to a greater extent than the experience of using everyday things that delight me for long periods of time? I can certainly conjure up the feeling of using MS-DOS on a 386. Or the busy signal on AOL dial-in numbers and what I thought would be the generation-defining sound: the shriek and static of dial-up modems. You can’t tell me those aren’t experiences by the definition he’s putting forward.

For an artist, the tools he or she uses are of the utmost importance.

Making things and services an experience — not only in utility but also emotional attachment (there are Apple people and there are PC people; iPhone users and Android users and government workers with their Blackberries). That’s the whole purpose of experience design. Human-/user-centered design. Service design.

Should products become experiences? Is that healthy for society? Too late. We work all day on computers and continue to search for one better than the last — or one as good as the last only more powerful. And let’s not even get into objects of sentimental value.

I’m not going to address every bullet in her listicle, as I think I’ve gotten across my issue with the claim (which has been disseminated long before this newsletter or her article).

If I have anything else to add, I’ll annotate it.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.