Purging the Worm

Sophie Jerram writes on her experience of getting a consultation and making a t-shirt with Daniel Webby in his Urban Dream Brokerage project Your Message Here

I had thought it was going to get very complicated, this finding my perfect slogan. 

In visiting Daniel Webby every day during the five days he was installed at 86 Victoria St I had seen people writhing, in sweats, twisted and perplexed. By observation, the process of talking with him seem to be equivalent to meeting with a monk or holy man who was going to purge out a symbolic worm. When he came to killing the worm, Daniel’s process was very rudimentary; naming it and printing it, coarsely in block print, on a t-shirt.

In actuality, my experience felt very clean and simple. By Friday afternoon, Daniel had got his technique honed to a fine art. I had decided my real bugbear was the amount of time and energy I was spending in an online, as opposed to a physical, offline world. I felt hypocritical talking to my kids about spending too much time on the computer when I would dive onscreen for social, logistical, income-earning and unassailable reasons. This was my issue, and Daniel began to talk about this and write words down on his whiteboard.

Very quickly we were talking about the illusion of leisure that the revolution in whiteware consumer goods (dishwashers, washing machines and ovens) had promised in the 1970s. The promise that once installed in our home, these labour-saving devices would enable people to become better educated, take part in community activities and increase the general pool of ‘leisure time’. To some extent this took place but it’s been accepted that time that was freed up has been used by many people to “work all day, to get you money to buy you things” (as The Beatles put it).

The promise of the digital world has been an equal bedazzling mirage, I held to Daniel. We were not choosing to spend time freed by efficient communication, in quality activity but wasting spare time on unnecessary Facebook posts, ‘tweeting as Rome burned’ as a friend once put it.

Daniel came straight to it. “You know about the hierarchy of needs?” “Maslow’s, I said? Of course!”

I’ve had a growing aversion to Maslow’s hierarchy ever since being taught it as gospel it in an economics class in 1984 – the start, of course of the West’s affair with neo-liberalism. My teenage grasp on the teaching of Maslow’s notion was thus: our basic animal needs for food and shelter had to be met before safety, love and esteem needs and finally self-actualisation occurred. Later in university-level marketing courses, Maslow’s hierarchy was used to infer that the path to enlightenment was through the passage of individual consumption and convention. Knowing some very poor and underfed friends closer to enlightenment than many fat cats with all their ego needs met has eroded my faith in this teaching.

Well, Daniel said, here it is then. And he drew an inverted pyramid where we could imagine our own categories of need. He labelled it Hierarchy of Needs.

Simple. Worm purged. Nice t-shirt. Thanks Daniel. You have a great gift.