Why do products please us less than experiences?

The always-interesting Katja Grace links to some explanations and comments on this issue; here is Katja:

We compare products more than experiences, and since products are doomed to not be the best we could ever have got, we are sad. When we don’t compare, we are happy.

This requires one of two things:

  1. that when we can’t compare something, we assume it is better than average
  2. that we find knowing how something compares displeasing in itself unless the thing is the best.

Either of these seem like puzzling behaviour. Why would we do one of them?

A related reason is that we are more like to reevaluate products, which sit around and get reused and become less novel, than we are to fundamentally reevaluate experiences.


A product's usefulness is spread out over many uses, while an experience lasts one time. Experiences just pack all the pleasure into one instance, so it seems more powerful.

We evaluate everything largely based on what we remember. If memories depreciate over time, we put more weight on recent memories than we should. And we all believe in diminishing marginal utility. Thus, we _think_ we get more utility from experiences (which are not subject to diminishing MU), but it's probably due to erroneous accounting.

An axiom:

Disappointment = Reality < Expectations Most often, people are disappointed because they have unreasonably high internal expectations (false hope), externally inflated expectations (empty promises), or inadequate information (deception, ignorance, stupidity, misinformation, bias, untimely information, information costs) Sometimes the expectations are reasonable and reality, the result of stochastic factors, produces a bad roll of the dice. I find that both goods and experiences are reevaluated over time with new information and the wisdom of experience. But the memories of experiences fade and the emotional impact dwindles. Goods are often durable which means they are constantly reevaluated, but store them in the attic - out of sight, out of mind. But how does that last failed relationship feel? Ignorance is bliss, but time often solves that problem. On the other hand, buyer's remorse for a good can often be ameliorated with a good purchase later while bad experiences can scar a person's psyche permanently. Ask a PTSD sufferer if experiences are less likely to be reevaluated than goods.

"[Robert] Frank's explanation is simple: Conspicuous and inconspicuous consumption follow different psychological rules. Conspicuous consumption refers to things that are visible to others and that are taken as markers of a person's relative success. These goods are subject to a kind of arms race, where their value comes not so much from their objective properties as from the statement they make about their owner. When everyone wore Timex watches, the first person in the office buy a Rolex stood out. When everyone moved up to Rolex, it took a $20,000 Patek Philip to achieve high status, and a Rolex no longer gave as much satisfaction. Conspicuous consumption is a zero-sum game: Each person's move up devalues the possessions of others. Furthermore, it's difficult to persuade an entire group or subculture to ratchet down, even though everyone would be better off, on average, if they all went back to simple watches. Inconspicuous consumption, on the other hand, refers to goods and activities that are valued for themselves, that are usually consumed more privately, and that are not bought for the purpose of achieving status. Because Americans, at least, gain no prestige from taking the longest vacations or having the shortest commutes, these inconspicuous consumables are not subject to an arms race.†

“Because human being were shaped by evolutionary processes to pursue success, not happiness, people enthusiastically pursue goals that will help them win prestige in zero-sum competitions. Success in these competitions feels good but gives no lasting pleasure, and it raises the bar for future success.†

Jonathan Haidt, The Happiness Hypothesis

Is "always interesting" meant as a positive or a polite negative?

Cyrus, cause it works so well for Malcom.

(we prefer a good story to good logic?)

To follow up on the prediction:

For products, commodities like gold vary on mostly 1 dimension -- price -- whereas cars or CDs vary on a huge number aside from price. Do we see more satisficing for the latter -- perhaps even at levels typical of experiences? -- yes.

For experiences, those like vacations or concerts vary on a huge number of dimensions, whereas commutes to work vary on mostly one -- expected travel time. (For people who live in highly heterogeneous environments, there may also be large differences in pleasantness between routes, but not for the typical person whose routes will all have similar visual and auditory backgrounds.) Do we see more maximizing for the latter -- perhaps even at levels typical of products? -- yes.

I'm surprised everybody is accepting the paradigm that experiences and our experiences of products are two different things. We only get pleasure from products when they basically enhance or create a new experience for us.

Your memory filters out the bad parts when it remembers experiences.

If I choose my experiences carefully, they provide a lot more status at lower cost. Gaining status through products is really expensive, whereas gaining status through experiences can be free.

I also don't buy her loyalty story -- that we don't want to ruthlessly compare or later re-evaluate because we want to increase loyalty or team spirit.

When choosing members of a sports team -- and how much more team-oriented and loyalty-driven can it get? -- the existing members finely scrutinize applicants, and if someone better comes along, they get a reminder that they need to shape up or ship out.

Again that is predicted by the "dimensionality of utility" idea -- the dimensions on which you judge a potential mate or ally are huge, whereas a basketball team mostly cares about a few (height, how high you can jump, muscularity, sprinting speed). It's a lot easier to rank individuals for choosing sports team players, so people maximize; it's harder to rank them as mates -- there we only get large equivalence classes -- so people satisfice.

With rare exceptions, people buy products to have experiences. If, say, Tyler buys a Porsche in order to get hot babes, it's the experience of getting hot babes he wants.

How can the experience (e.g, getting hot babes) be inferior to the product purchased as a means to that experience? The product either will satisfy as a means to that experience or it won't satisfy, so on average it will necessarily be less satisfying than the experience itself.

This video is great! The No Apology Song: http://mittromneycentral.com/2010/05/07/no-apology-song-the-case-for-american-greatness/

The more people that hear this, the better. It’s not too late to wake up Americans so we can bring America back! Let’s spread this everywhere we can!

Often you don't realize how much you enjoy something until it's gone. Then the fondness grows through reminiscence while familiarity breeds contempt or at least discount.

"This being the case, it does not matter how many cans a man might accumulate. Do we measure satisfaction by what we may stack up, but by what we are given to enjoy?" aptly refers to the heart of it ... from last posting here: http://www.dougwils.com/
Enjoyment is that experiential intangible that's more real (in terms of what we truly value) than reality itself.

Katja does always bring the interestingness. I've just posted a conversation of my own with her here: http://colinmarshall.typepad.com/blog/2010/05/organ-markets-correct-interestingness-and-selfdelusion-a-talk-with-meteuphorics-katja-grace.html

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