5 Common Status Symbols That No Longer Make Sense
Status symbols are magic. Unlike most goods, which become expensive because lots of people want them, you want status symbols because they're expensive. And if they get even pricier, you just want them more. It's all about demonstrating your wealth and superiority. That said, a bunch of things that have been popular status symbols forever no longer really make sense, if they ever did. For instance ...
Fine Wine Is Now Almost Indistinguishable From The Cheap Stuff
If a person brags to you that they spent $400 to add a wine from 1908 to their cellar, 1) you are justified in cutting off all ties with them, and 2) you shouldn't be too envious. People hoard old wine, but rarely remember that winemaking is biotechnology. And like all technology, it's improved over the last century.
Vineyards today have scientists taking care of irrigation, soil resistivity mapping, and pH monitoring to supercharge grapes, and wineries have experts controlling phenolic compounds and sulfur dioxide and malic acid to supercharge wine. This all adds up to a process that's a tad more intricate than old-timey French peasants crushing fruit with their feet. Wine you buy today, even cheap varietals, is better than wine you could get long ago.
"Ah," you say to an empty room with absolutely no friends in it, "but individual bottles of wine blossom with age!" Well, don't be so sure of that. Wine takes time to ferment, of course, but once that's done, most types degrade with age. Only a few specific types of wine are meant for aging, and experts admit that even these don't actually get that much better. Most wine doesn't inherently improve if you leave it in a dim pantry for a decade.
Plus, it's mostly the bottle that makes you feel fancy anyway. It's made of glass, rendering it needlessly fragile and also needlessly heavy, which raises freight costs. Then there's the cork, which some insist is a miracle material, but was actually just the first thing we tried after we got sick of stuffing bottlenecks with oily rags. Also, corks can leave a bunch of shit in your drunk-y grape juice, which means that a cardboard box of wine is a better container than any elegantly corked bottle.
So the next time someone makes a comment about you buying three boxes of wine at the local grocery store, know that you're the classy one.
An "Ivy League" Education Is Mostly About Connections And Branding
Everyone knows only the cream of the crop get an Ivy League education. 16 presidents went to Ivy League schools, as did every single current Supreme Court justice. If you're talking to an Ivy League grad, you're talking to the best of the best, dammit!
Damn ... damn it? No.
First of all, the Ivy League is just a sports conference, rather than a council of elite wizarding schools. As for whether they give the best education, there's no direct way to measure that. Grades are useless (it's actually easier to get A's in Ivy colleges than elsewhere, thanks to grade inflation), and it's not like colleges nationwide give all outgoing students standardized tests. We do assume the Ivy League has the best professors, but they're actually just the best-paid. By that logic, Tom Cruise should've won every Best Actor Oscar from 1986 until forever.
One group tried to rank the professors of all colleges. They used ratings students submit online, which isn't perfect data, but does seem to correlate with formal evaluations and teaching awards, so it's the best we have. Welp, no Ivy university professors appeared in the top 100. And when it comes to job recruiters looking for the best hires, Ivy schools don't even make the top five. But Arizona State does. Go Sun Devils, I guess.
Still, Ivy League graduates end up with good jobs. Ten years out of college, an Ivy grad can expect to make twice as much as other college grads in general. But when two researchers followed students across several decades to determine if Ivy grads earn more due to the advantages of an Ivy League education, the conclusion was ... no. They don't. These students benefit mostly from the networking opportunities that the Ivies provide (while more privileged students could have gotten those even without an Ivy degree). So the real reward from an Ivy League education is truly the friends you make along the way.
We've Been Able To Make Perfect Artificial Diamonds For A While Now
You might have already heard that millennials are killing the diamond industry. We've figured out that twinkly stones add nothing to our lives, so we're spending our money on "experiences" and "rent," right? But no matter how wise some people claim to be, the diamond industry overall now makes more money today than it ever has before. The reason for this, says the industry, is that the demand for diamonds is ever growing, especially in developing countries with up-and-coming classes of people with disposable income. Meanwhile, diamond reserves remain very much finite.
Except diamonds aren't finite. We can make those things, and we've been able to for decades. And while "artificial diamonds" used to mean substitutes like cubic zirconia, which sorta looks like a cartoon's idea of what a diamond is supposed to be, nowadays labs are able to create jewels that are nearly indistinguishable from ones mined by magical dwarves. And last year, the FTC straight-up eliminated the label separating "natural" diamonds from synthetic ones, because the two are now totally identical.
And now stores are now selling these homegrown diamonds for 30 percent less than mined ones. But what's stopping someone else from selling new diamonds for even less, making anyone who jumps on the 30 percent discount today feel stupid? Nothing, which is why retailers are about to do exactly that. De Beers, an international corporation that specializes in diamonds and has a laundry list of, umm, legal "problems," long campaigned against any kind of synthetic diamond, but now they're cooking their own synthetics, and they're making theirs cheaper than regular ones too.
And why should it end there? Diamonds have only stayed at one price traditionally because the De Beers cartel controlled every diamond in the world. Now anyone can make even cheaper diamonds until supply and demand meet and the price for a new stone settles at, I don't know, $4? And so the only people who get screwed are those who invested in diamonds thinking "This will forever impress strangers with my wealth!" Sorry, buddy. You should've gone with something that had a better resale value, like Beanie Babies or cans of old farts.
Having The Newest Phone Is Nothing To Be Proud Of
If you're one of the hardcore who line up to get the newest phone every year, you sure as hell aren't doing it because your old phone is hopelessly obsolete. It's about being able to impress your tech-savvy friends. "This one has FOUR cameras!"
Yet Apple recently had to tearfully inform investors that buyers don't seem to be replacing their phones every year like they used to. And the reason for this, they said, wasn't anything so fixable as pricing or marketing or people being poor. Instead, it seems the phones that people already have are just fine, rendering upgrades and standing outside a store for six hours in the morning meaningless.
It's just a case of diminishing returns. The speed of a computer chip used to double every two years, but after four decades, that finally became kind of impossible. And yet now, even though our CPUs aren't quite as fast as they would have been if they'd stayed on that exponential curve, we're not suffering. Unless you're building an impeccable gaming PC, you probably don't know or care exactly how fast your computer is. Netflix loads the latest season of GLOW just fine and the Washington Post website doesn't collapse into a dying heap when you scroll, so it's doing its job.
And I'm not saying phones will never get better, but the improvements we've been taking for granted can't be pushed much further. Screen resolution is already insane (a 27-inch monitor is arguably too small to show a 4k image properly, so a 4k phone is pointless). Storage and speed will become less relevant as we turn even more toward the cloud. And really, cameras are so good that the only thing holding them back is you being unable to understand a proper Dutch angle, Steve.
Expensive Perfume Is Like Fine Wine (In A Bad Way)
Many people buy brand-name stuff because the label means something to other fashionable people, regardless of quality. It's just proving you're part of the club. But what about shit that you can't see at all, like perfume you've sprayed on? Do you keep the bottle in your pocket so you can whip it out at anyone who dares to sniff in your vicinity?
So that raises a question: Can people tell how expensive your perfume is just by smelling it? There's an annual perfume awards show, so someone must be appreciating this stuff. But when pollsters have tried getting volunteers to distinguish between an expensive perfume and a knockoff, most couldn't identify the famous brand.
And the brand had better be detectable, because the liquid itself costs little to make (a couple of bucks, if that). Some perfumes are extra expensive because they contain natural ingredients, but natural doesn't necessarily mean better, and natural perfumes break down more quickly. Then there are companies that have put out a few stupidly pricey bottles just to attract consumers to the regular stuff, only to have people see the stupidly pricey bottles and buy them all. Because that's what happens when you say a product is the best and no one bothers to research literally anything.
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