The ownership experience & mass production

The way we value mass produced objects is weird.

For example, I love my MacBook. I value it as an essential daily tool, but I also value it for its beauty and other reasons which go beyond immediate practical value, in the same way that I suppose a woman might feel the same way about her diamond necklace.

My MacBook happens to have a small scratch. I would exchange it for an identical laptop without the scratch without no any sense of loss or regret. Furthermore, unless Apple screws up, I would happily exchange it for the next year’s model, even if it looks very different from my current one. If my MacBook were lost, I would go straight to an Apple store, purchase an identical model and restore it from backup. I would mourn the loss of my money, but not my computer, since I would have an essentially identical replacement. This is different from the way we value non-mass produced things. I would turn down an offer to replace my daughter for an equivalent child, even if that child had a 10 IQ point advantage. (I was going to offer a comparison to a possession rather than a person, but I realized that virtually every possession I own is mass-produced, so I don’t have the subjective experience of owning an heirloom. Even my family photos are fully digitized and infinitely reproducible.)

Information technology products have the additional property of only being valuable within a certain time period. After my computer becomes outdated, it will become essentially worthless, even in mint condition, without any loss of original functionality. This is very different from my watch, I would be perfectly happy to wear to my grave if it lasts that long.

So what is it precisely that we value in consumer products? You might say that we really value is the ownership experience. It’s an intangible property, which sounds like marketing-speak. But it helps to understand many strategies of successful companies.