It’s a phrase that popped into my head the other day, my brain conjuring up the reworked version of the opening lines of Shakespeare’s Richard III, “Now is the winter of our discontent…”
I was reflecting on the way that the saturation of our lives with wifi connectivity brings consumerism into our homes in a variety of direct and indirect ways – and, by extension, can also bring the discontent that often attends consumerism.
For instance, we discuss as a society the many ways that always-on work culture affects us an individuals and families, but we don’t often articulate one of the philosophical ramifications of this, namely that we are engaging in transactional behaviour – work in exchange for money – in all corners of our personal space and time. We are playing our role in a capitalist, consumerist economy – that of earner and deployer of money – in ways more boundaryless than ever before. Even if, as I am blessed to be able to say is the case for me, your work is something you’re passionate about – more vocation than obligation – the fundamental dynamic must still be recognised.
So too with actual consumption of goods. Now, I am a firm fan of online shopping. In my ideal world, that would be my preferred means for all purchases. Again, though, it brings consumerism into our homes – into a space at least notionally idealised as the space of rest and contentment – in heretofore unprecedented ways. What is the psychological cost of this? What reserves of discontent do we heighten with this ever-present option to buy?
As a final example, we can turn our attention, of course, to aspirational media – whether social or otherwise – in which we are exposed, as relentlessly as we allow ourselves to be, to lives, experiences, relationships and possessions we do not, in fact, possess. What does this do to our desire to consume – to make our selves more appealing, to make our surroundings more beautiful and organised, to make our lives ‘richer’ with experiences?
These were the thoughts that prompted the idle connection to the phrase. ‘Now is the wifi of our discontent…’
But here’s the thing.
In the play, the phrase continues.
“Now is the winter of our discontent
Made glorious summer by this son of York;
And all the clouds that low’r’d over our house,
In the deep bosom of the ocean buried.”
The lines don’t lament a winter. They celebrate a change in season – a change of good fortune! Winter has been turned to summer. Oppression has been turned to contentedness through a change in royal power.
And that’s the key.
The ever-presentness of wifi – of our connectivity to work and the world – can, without question, be an oppression. It can fester deep discontent and feed all kinds of consumerist mindsets. When, that is, we allow the dominant power at work in our lives to be externally driven messages. If the messages coming in – you must perform and you must conform – are the strongest messages in our lives, that power will turn our connectedness into oppression and discontent.
However, if the dominant power at work in our lives is internally driven messages from a soul and mind at peace; messages that say I am enough and I have enough – then contentedness can be the season in which we live. We can walk away from an unfinished to-do list, knowing it is not the verdict on our worth. We can use online shopping to source the thing we need at the price we can afford, and walk away satisfied. We can find, in the media we engage with, inspiration, rather than consumerism veiled as ‘aspiration’.
It’s the power at work, in Shakespeare’s lines, that turn discontent and oppression to contented delight. And it’s the power at work in our own heads and hearts that does the same.