Years ago, our century had just begun, progressive voices heralded the transition from a product economy to an experience economy. Instead of selling cars, car companies told us in their advertisements that they were selling a “driving experience”. Of course, we realized, the experience is everything. We go to restaurants in order to have a dining experience, not to ingest calories. The point is that selling an experience explicitly as such, enables us to loosen the ties with the underlying physical product. The experience can always be made more exclusive, more scarce, more valuable and be sold for ever greater profit. In theory, that would allow an economy to grow until infinity.
I went to the dentist today. He did me a root canal. Lying on the chair with my glasses off, I stared into the blurry round lights and let my imagination run wild. After all, I wanted to derive some worthwhile experiences from the substantial sum I’d have to pay (my health insurance isn’t too generous). The black leather seat was inviting, my head rested comfortably as it was reclined into operating position and I got the exciting journey-like sensation out of it. Mine shafts were drilled into the cavities of my upper jaw, tunnels populated with little miners who put their boots on my nerve endings, before being collapsed again, the miners incorporated, the tunnels filled with a pearl white substance. When the slick Russian dentist disinfected some of the implements with what sounded like a burner, I wanted to report that it sounded like he was preparing crème brûlé in my mouth, but I couldn’t say anything because my mouth was wide open, saliva being sucked off under the gaze of the pretty assistant. I listened to someone practicing TROMBONE in the building, the roaring, sizzling, swooshing, crunching of the dentist implements on my tooth turning it into a modern experimental piece of music. I felt tense, with contracted buttocks and legs and translated the sound of the drill into the rattling of a rollercoaster. I received composite fillings, the stuff that is hardened with ultra-violet light. The flashes were my entry ticket into night club. I was in fast cars, at gushing waterfalls, in the cockpit of an supersonic jet, even a brief moment in space, – all that for a meager 200 euros.
He who has boundless fantasy is a rich man. And if we all had the ability to derive wonderful, fully satisfactory experiences from almost any given input – a leaf of grass, a footprint on a beach, the shrieking song of a common bird – what would be the consequence for the “experience economy”? Is its potential for infinite growth at the same time its fragility – its potential for degrowth until zero?