Sunday, April 15, 2012

A Great Sentence: Identity and Consumption

"...Americans increasingly defined themselves by what they bought rather than what they did, and this shift of emphasis proved deeply damaging over time." From Walter Russell Mead.

This is probably at least partly driven by the rise of youth consumer culture, allowed by increased disposable income. Kids and young adults are much more likely to measure and identify themselves by bands, clothing, and recreational equipment than by their grades, college major or productive pursuits. This continues in adulthood, more clothing, luxury cars and food, and sports teams. It's not new that we want something for nothing - in this case, high status without effort or merit - but what is new is that we can think we're getting it, at least in the short-term. This also might offer an explanation for why young people seem driven to more and more obscure bands and tastes - the more isolated your taste, the more secure your position in your self-defined status hierarchy.

This is certainly not a tirade against the possibility of mass production and the commercialization of experience - this process has without a doubt improved our lives and continued to improve our lives. The side effect is that consumerism has made us need instant gratification everywhere - even in our status hierarchy - and consumption can provide for this need.

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