What is the Diderot Effect? Simply put, a social phenomenon in which, when a consumer obtains a new possession, it creates a spiral of consumption that leads to the acquisition of even more possessions. These examples may sound familiar. You buy a new piece of clothing, and immediately you start looking for new shoes, a new belt, or other accessories. Or when you replace the carpet in your living room, suddenly the window coverings seem dated and tired, so you need to replace those as well. Or you finally purchase a new car. But now you need premium gasoline, and new floor mats (the ones from the old vehicle will no longer do), and other assorted car-related paraphernalia. This is the Diderot Effect.
“Regrets on Parting With My Old Dressing Gown”
The effect was first described in an essay “Regrets on Parting With My Old Dressing Gown” written by the French philosopher Denis Diderot in 1769. In it, he describes how he received a gift of a beautiful scarlet dressing gown which while he was initially pleased with, led to unexpected results, eventually putting him into debt. Once he had a fashionable new dressing gown, the rest of his possessions seemed cheap, so he started making purchases to live up to the new level of elegance and style. He replaced his old straw chair, for example, with an armchair covered in Moroccan leather; his old desk was replaced with an expensive new writing table; his formerly beloved prints were replaced with more costly prints, and so on. He writes in his essay” “I was absolute master of my old dressing gown but I have become a slave to my new one.” Continue reading