What does this Oscar Wilde quote mean? “We live in an age when unnecessary things are our only necessities.”
i am researching this as it is a test prep question.
In the world today, where there is no need to work to grow our food, many dollars are spent on devices that, could be said, exist primarily to entertain us.
What points could i make about this particular quote?
This quote is even more true today. Clearly, cell phones are not necessary for life to continue; however, most teenagers (and many adults) would swear they cannot live without their phone. We rely on technology and material things that are not true necessities. Our true necessities are things like food and shelter. We often consider other things to be necessities as well.
Because the U.S. sent much of its manufacturing out of the country, America now has become a consumer nation. Therefore, the purchase of products is one staple of the economy. This is why China holds up much of the US debt--America buys so much of its products. In a sense, then, purchasing material goods has become a necessity in America. However, this quest for ownership of material things has blinded people to the reality that "the real things in life are not real."
I believe the quote is, as some have said, a comment on our need for things beyond what is necessary for survival. I think one can definitely make the argument that, in our technological age, we yearn for organic connections to the people around us, for meaning in life, for time to reflect, and other things that, while not necessary to sustain life, are what makes that life worth living.
You could argue that since we have most of the basics taken care of, we can focus on other things. Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs states that once our basic needs our met, we are able to move on to higher needs. However, if our basic needs are not met we cannot satisfy higher needs. So if we are hungry or unsafe, we will not be concerned with friendship or self-actualization. We only worry about social needs and happiness and self-satisfaction when all of our other needs are met.
Looking at time spent in pursuit of entertainment and through what means/objects we are entertained can be one way to examine your topic.
How many hours does the average person spend online everyday and how much of that time is spent on work, how much on entertainment?
You might also look at how much money is spent on non-necessity items like tablet computers, cell-phones, computers, etc. As has been pointed out, none of these particular technologies is directly required for survival despite the increasing centrality they take on in our culture.
You might also make the point that technological advances make this a true statement in any age. Oscar Wilde said that quite a long time ago, and the statement, which was true then, holds true today. Also, you could connect this to Maslow's hierarchy of needs, which show that once our basic needs, for food and shelter, for example, we are free to desire other sorts of satisfaction.
You might put a more spiritual or cultural twist on this. You could say that we have everything we need for physical life. So now what we need is things that will make our lives more complete. We need things like arts or religion that will make our lives well-rounded. We don't need them for mere survival, but we do for a good life.