Shopping has a lot in common with sex.
Just about everybody does it.
Some people brag about how well they do it.
Some keep it a secret.
And both provide ample opportunities to make foolish choices.
Choosing and using objects is a primal human activity, and I Want That! is nothing less than a portrait of humanity as the species that shops. It explores the history of acquisition finding, choosing, spending from our amber-coveting Neolithic forebears to Renaissance nobles who outfitted themselves for power to twenty-first-century bargain hunters looking for a good buy on eBay. I Want That! explores the minds of shoppers in the quest to nourish and feed fantasies, to define individuality, to provide for family, and to satisfy the needs for celebration, power, and choice all of which lead us to malls, boutiques, websites, and superstores.
In ancient Rome, artisans sold luxury goods at their clients' homes; during the seventies, Bloomingdale's deliberately confused its customers with disorganized merchandise displays. "For better and worse, it is impossible today to imagine a world without shopping," Thomas Hine argues in I Want That!. Hine coins the term "buyosphere" to describe the spaces in which we acquire, and he traces the history of shopping back to the quest of Jason who, with the help of the Argonauts, was "trying to get his hands on a valuable object" -- the Golden Fleece. "For the hero (as for some shoppers) the struggle of finding is more important than the actual getting," he explains. In these strapped times, every shopper can be a hero. "Indeed," Hine writes, "our economic health depends on shoppers' ceaseless lust for the inessential."
That "ceaseless lust" may explain the success behind John D. Freyer's singular experiment, which he chronicles in the book All My Life For Sale. Freyer, who describes himself as "the type of person who holds on to things," made almost five thousand dollars by selling all the possessions in his Iowa City home on eBay. He began with his toaster (final price: $11.50) and then moved on to an Iowa City phone book, 1999-2000 ($1.25), a copy of the novel "Infinite Jest," one-eighth read ($7.50), a Jesus night-light ($8), and his sideburns ($19.50). Though the book is a catalogue, it is also an autobiography of how objects have defined Freyer's life. He almost took up smoking because a kidney-shaped ashtray ($8) was "so damn cool," and he felt a deep anger when his father returned a handmade book ($22.50) Freyer had constructed out of ads from old Life magazines.(Marshall Heyman)