Some Academic(ish) Reflections On Collecting (1 Viewer)

CrazyEddie

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Gwern Branwen is one of the smartest people I know of. He writes about, well, whatever he finds interesting. Recently he wrote about collecting, and perhaps some of us will find his thoughts interesting as well.

https://www.gwern.net/Collecting

He has in mind certain high-profile sorts of collecting - art, sneakers, Pokemon and Magic cards, Beanie Babies, watches, and now NFTs - but he considers the very idea of collecting more broadly, from an anthropological, psychological, and economic viewpoint. Undoubtedly many of his generalizations and theories would apply to at least some of us here in the chipping world, although the economics (and institutional structures?) for us are different from, say, comics (but similar to, say, stamps) because nobody is churning out more chips for all of us to run out and buy just so we can have the latest new things.

Gwern covers a lot of ground here for a short essay (although check out his references section if you're looking for more depth). This one bit sticks out, though:

Are collectors happier? It does not really seem that way. Does one enjoy collecting? Or, like an addict, does one just chase the high of the next hit, wanting but not liking it? When one watches the face of someone playing slot machines in a trance, “enjoyment” does not seem like the right word. Most collectors seem aware that they are on a hedonic treadmill where an acquisition brings them brief pleasure, but then they return to the baseline, and are uncomfortable and ambivalent when questioned about it, and have doubts about it.

I highlight this part simply because I've seen people express sentiments along these lines here, now and then. I'm not saying any of this is true or correct, but I do think it's relevant.

I also thought that this bit was insightful:

Collecting is further reinforced by the intermittent arrival of rewards in the form of a missing item showing up

It's well-established that intermittent rewards are a very powerful form of positive reinforcement. It's part of what makes gambling so addictive; losers keep losing because every now and then they win. It hadn't occurred to me that occasionally finding a new chip or barrel or rack provides the same kind of occasional win that can help to keep us chasing more.

Anyway, if you thought this essay was interesting as well, I'd love to hear your thoughts. What did you agree with? Disagree with? Think needs further explanation?
 

Bill_Man618

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I haven’t read the essay yet, but I do agree with parts of his statement that you quoted. A lot of the joy of this hobby initially was acquisitions. However, as it progressed it became and will continue to be about the thrill of the hunt for me. The hunt for the “unattainable” the chip that nobody has or the chip that people spend years finding. It will be about building relationships with other chippers and helping them on their journeys while they help you on yours. As I mentioned in another post my journey of acquisitions is coming to a close and at least for me the hobby will continue to be about hunting rarer chips to buildout my incomplete samples. There is an addicting nature to this though as I get the same euphoric feeling from chipping that I do other addictive substances. The difference for me is that when I look at the chips I’m frames on my wall I get a similar euphoric feeling and they bring me joy over time. Substances give me immediate euphoria for a period of time and that joy and euphoria isn’t brought back until the substance is used again.
 

THRA5H3R

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In my years of collecting things, I've at least learned about myself that it is the uniqueness of the experience of the thing that I most appreciate. Of course, rarity is always valued in collecting, but I don't have to have the rarest of objects to appreciate them. I have a New Orleans Morgan silver dollar that I would consider readily available on the market, but I thoroughly enjoy having it because you don't see many people just pocketing them around as an everyday carry (I fidget with it and use it as a card protector).

Don't get me wrong, I'm deep in the chip-acquisition phase of this hobby currently, but I feel like the more collections I assemble, the faster I get to the "I'm ok not getting those super rares" spot. My wallet may also have something to say about that...
 
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likening it to dopamine hits from gambling is strange. You could say the same about almost any hobby no matter how inexpensive. Why do people go to restaurants? Dopamine junkies - all of them.

it’s also a strange comparison to gambling broadly speaking since chips retain almost all of their value if you’re somewhat discriminating on price - there is no equivalent for playing slot machines. Poker is a fair comparison though. People who care about the money learn how to do it well, people who have deep pockets pay for entertainment, and some smaller subset are people with self regulation issues making bad financial decisions.

I’d say it’s a lot more like watch collecting than gambling. The ballers pay a bit of a premium to get what they want when they want, and people on a tighter budget shop around for good deals and often break even or make money. To believe that most people engaged in these types of hobby economies are junkies losing their shirts is to have no understanding of how they work.
 
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