Lagom - Better than Best

A recent article by Dustin Curtis made an interesting case for seeking out the best in everything you own, that your quality of life will be higher surrounded by perfection. The interesting bit to me is not so much that thesis, but that it frames that attitude as something new.  Rather, I'd make the case that it is rather typical, especially so in the community of geeks that Dustin belongs to.  We are almost obsessive in our compulsion to seek out the best, to research things ad infinitum and to bask in the satisfaction of knowing that a particular widget is the best made, most thoughtfully designed, and carefully constructed.

The thing is, seeking out "The Best" isn't anything new, it is just Consumerism taken to the extreme.  We love consuming, and we especially love consuming in ways that set us apart, doubly so if we can rationalize that consumption.  Any proud owner of the latest widget will be all too happy to tell you why his widget is better than the others, better than the last and perhaps even the final word in widgets.

In my early twenties I was lucky enough to spend a bit of time in Sweden. I spent only a week there, but in that time I got introduced to the Swedish word "lagom".  There is no English equivalent to lagom, but Wikipedia calls it "just the right amount", that what you have is good, but not excessively so. Something "lagom" meets your needs, leaves you content, but doesn't try to do so in extreme.  As put by the Lexin dictionary, that "Enough is as good as a feast".

Lagom specifically eschews excess, but strives to be good, not junky or disposable.  If you have visited IKEA, which is of course Swedish, you have probably seen an awful lot of lagom.  Though you've also seen an awful lot of disposable things too, even IKEA has a hard time finding the line that is lagom.

So while "The Best" flatware may be $200 at MOMA for a sitting of four, the lagom choice might be $13 at IKEA. They will both last you a lifetime, but perhaps only the first has the perfect angle to the fork tines as it hits your tongue.  I may never know.

To be very clear, Lagom does not mean cheap in quality or price, it is good but content to not be perfect.  In essence it is recognizing the 90/10 rule, that the first 90% of anything can be achieved fairly easily, but beyond that it becomes exponentially harder and less efficient to make improvements.  Seeking out perfection personally is part of life, but as a matter of consumption, it is a wasteful goal, and one that the marketplace is far too willing to indulge.

This particular trait, of cherishing the best, of making sure to be prepared for anything, strikes me as very American. In Kigali, it is usually easy to spot the American tourist: safari pants with lots of pockets, travel wallet and an Osprey pack, all of highest quality, best at what they do. The Europeans tend to be more casual, in jeans with well weathered rucksacks.

So instead of striving for the best in what I purchase, I tend to try to find the lagom instead.  I must say for me personally, that is incredibly hard to do. My natural tendency is very much more to be like Dustin, to research like mad and have a veritable bible of information to back my decision.

But in the end, though we have to consume things, we must not be consumed by them, and to spend days researching the best camera, fork, computer or pocket knife is just that, being consumed by them.  

We only have so much time here, let us spend it creating, sharing, exploring and risking instead.  Let us keep our consumptions lagom, so that instead we can make the rest of our life "The Best".