Mindbloggling

Current ideas about cultural evolution and the creative processes that power it.

Fake Flooring and Fake People

Does growing up around fake stuff encourage fakeness?

There has been a growing encroachment of fake stuff: gold-painted fixtures made to look like real gold, countertops made to look like marble, concrete made to look like rocks, vinyl siding or laminate flooring made to look like wood. Even synthetic turf. The rationale is simple: the fake stuff is cheaper to make and transport, or easier to care for. The seller gets all the customers that would like the real thing but can't afford it or don't have time to care for it, and the buyer gets the next best thing to the genuine stuff. But is it better to surround oneself with stuff that revels in what it is, or to surround oneself with stuff that pretends to be something it's not?

Is anyone really fooled into thinking that the lamp is made of gold or the siding is made of wood or the engineered countertop is made of marble? I'm no expert but I can pretty much instantly tell when stuff is fake, so if I can tell than anyone can. And when something is detected as being fake, it has two strikes against it: Not only is it (1) made of a cheap material, but it's (2) pretending to be something it's not.

What's the subtext here? The human mind uses everything it encounters as a potential metaphor for everything else. The message for kids growing up surrounded by fake stuff is: rather than learning to come to terms with and appreciate what things really are, how things really are, who you really are, just fake it. Conceal, cover up, pretend that you and everything around you is a notch up from what it really is. This is what kids learn growing up surrounded by fake stuff, and this is why they can justify spending their lives inventing even faker stuff.

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Our cognitive processes are very much affected by what we see. Accordingly, we judge fake products to be a success if, at least for a second or two, they fool our eyes. But I'm not so sure that our emotions and general sense of wellbeing are influenced by what we see so much as by how things feel, how they reflect sound, how they conduct heat, and how they influence all kinds variables that we have no specific sensory apparatus designed to tap into but which influence us nevertheless. In my twenties I used to go spelunking and every time I went I came back feeling invigorated and exhilarated. I figured it was the exercise and companionship, and the excitement of exploring dark, forgotten places. Years later, on holiday, I went in a little room carved out of a rocky hillside and experienced a sudden, strong sense of wellbeing. I went out of the 'room' to see if was connected to being in it. The sense of wellbeing disappeared. I went into the room and it returned. It was striking. I concluded that I simply feel good when surrounded by rock. The rocky room was not particularly attractive, so it had nothing to do with what my eyes were detecting. I think people like wood floors not just because they feel good but also because they look nice, so that's a bit more complicated. But it's possible that they attribute their liking of wood floors to how they look, when really it comes from something else that isn't so readily faked.

If all I can afford is laminate flooring, then give me a playful laminate design rather than a wood-wannabe. If I can't afford a marble countertop then give me a cheery, scratch-resistant surface to chop veggies on, rather than snooty faux-marble. This blog is more of a rant than others have been, and I admittedly know nothing about flooring and siding and so forth. But I'm genuinely puzzled as to why so many people buy fake stuff. Sometimes you just have to call it like you see it.

 

Liane Gabora, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor of Psychology at the University of British Columbia.

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