Today, we are faced with a culture that encourages and urges us to buy popular brands and the latest gadgets. Buying and having what most of us perceive as necessities is a common norm among households in most cultures; trends and fads have become major influences when it comes to decision-making.
A greater part of our society is now driven by advertising and consumer credit, sadly eroding the values of our traditional societies. In terms of consuming necessities, we consume more than twice of what we used to half a century ago. While these might appear that the population has gone affluent, this is hardly the case.
The twilight of the industrial revolution saw the beginning of a new era, the era of consumerism where the individual is viewed as the one in need of services and goods in order to satisfy his needs. It was logical then, workers and businesses experienced growth and needed people to buy what they had made. Construction of infrastructure and the development of technology and transport made it possible to bring goods to people – the consumers – lowering manufacturing and distribution costs.
This then leads to the development of marketing techniques and advertising. As the competition for consumers becomes stiff, businesses wanted to promote their products and services over the others so they thought of ways to present them to a greater number of people and offer the benefits so that consumers will buy from them.
While the internet and the skyrocketing success of social media have changed the way companies market and advertise these days, most of them still spend millions of dollars to get radio and television airtime, print media and run their ads on various social media platforms. Marketers and advertisers succeeded in finding and manipulating people’s desires and wants. Consumers almost always identify themselves in a number of advertisements which is why they are easily swayed into buying things they perceive they really need.
Marketers and advertisers have been criticized a number of times for their different campaigns some saying they have gone completely out of control that governments and regulatory agencies made rules and laws to control them. This is not to squarely put the blame on the ads and marketing campaigns.
However, popular culture and its evolution in the last fifty years have greatly influenced generations – families, neighborhoods, and communities. People whose decisions often reflect the influence of what they see compared to what they have been earlier taught to believe. Consider our standards of beauty and fitness. Many teenage girls are afraid to embrace their own bodies because they grew up seeing really thin models in fashion runways, billboards, and magazines. That they need to go to school with their makeup completely done and dressed with the latest trends from popular designers with their latest models of mobile phones, tablets or computers.
Traditional societies enjoyed leisurely family meals and socialized with relatives and friends having weekend barbecues or holiday dinners to catch up and have a conversation. Today’s consumer society often dine out to try a restaurant based on reviews posted on social media. More often than we like, we’ll order take outs because we are running late or are going to hang out. Today’s consumer societies have conversations in their chat boxes, messengers and video calls and when they do get together, they are often too busy with their mobile phones to have an actual live conversation. People talk about their work or leisure and not quite so much of each other.
Our global and borderless economy have also changed the way people work. With the internet and mobile phones having them connected and within reach all the time and with company offices on different time zones all over the world, work has become 24/7 leaving people on call all the time.
As a society, we may seem to be affluent with a penthouse unit or a new house, a nice European car and the latest Apple gadget but what is not seen immediately is how much we spent for these things – are they paid for in cash or on a mortgage? See, one great partner of a consumer society is consumer credit. Many from have fallen victim to the easy access to credit and are now paying the price, and a very costly one at that. Because consumers behave in such a way that they need to get everything they think they need, unlike traditional society who would not want anything they think they cannot afford.
More than the material threat, consumer society threatens the structure and values of the traditional one. The weight consumer society put on the things they think matter and their concept of value don’t tie back to those of the traditional society. While traditional society might need to evolve and make changes, it doesn’t mean that their enduring values and traditions, those that evolve on non-material things and familial ties would have to go.
Further, the current generation of millennials seems to have a different set of values than that of their predecessors. Yes, they are equally driven, if not, more hardworking, but they lean towards more individualistic pursuits and are not afraid to stand out or be different. We can only hope that they find the best characteristics in both societies and marry them in a way that they see value and worth in a different way.
Goodwin, Neva, et al. “Consumption and the Consumer Society.” Tufts University, www.ase.tufts.edu/gdae/education_materials/modules/Consumption_and_the_Consumer_Society.pdf. Accessed 30 Sept. 2016.
Gross, Daniel R. “Fetishism and Functionalism: The Political Economy of Capitalist Development in Latin America. A Review Article.” Comparative Studies in Society and History, vol. 25, no. 04, 1983, p. 694. Accessed 30 Sept. 2016.
“Living in a Consumer Society — European Environment Agency.” European Environment Agency, 3 June 2016, www.eea.europa.eu/signals/signals-2012/articles/living-in-a-consumer-society. Accessed 30 Sept. 2016.