Blog Entry 2: Response to Emergence of Consumerism

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Hi all:

This is a pretty easy and straight forward read on the early stages of consumer society.

Sort of interesting to realize how long the basic elements of it have been around, since probably the 18th century.

But, as we will see, it wasn't until the 20th Century that it came to full flower.

The reading points to a number of issues basic to an understanding of consumer society: the difference between want and need (if we can figure that out); the role of advertising; the social construction of desire as infinite.  A whole bunch of stuff.

Pick a quotation from the reading, type it into comment box, and write about why you picked it.



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"This new attention to comfort was part of redefining items that had once seemed luxuries into necessities"(22). I choose this quote because I found it to be shockingly accurate with today's consumerist society. Things such as the latest trends and fashions have become things women need, many putting it above actual necessities. Advertisement on t.v and billboards have done a good job at appealing to these women, turning the items advertised into must haves for trendsetters. I also chose this quote because I found that it also resonated with me. For instance, when I went to the mall with my mom I laid eyes on these tall brown riding boots and instantly I felt that I had to have them. I kept begging my mom to buy them for me and when she ignored my pleading I felt very angry and upset because not only did I feel like I wanted them, I felt like I needed them. I also found it interesting how turning luxuries into necessities began to slowly originate such as wanting a newer modeled home because their old one was to uncomfortable. It is astonishing to see how much consumerism has affected our society.

"In a society increasingly impressed by novelty and acquisition, it became easier to deplore a lack of interest and stimulation -- to note, in sum, that one was bored" (25). This quote shows a profound similarity to the society we live in today that I have noticed in nearly every age group, especially my generation. Boredom is something that most people dread and claim that happens all to often. As years pass boredom seems to happen easier and easier. As a young child it was surprisingly easy to be entertained. With a few simle toys a child can be entertained for hours and hours. Now, with all the new technology that is out and the accessibility of this technology, boredom cannot be cured with toys or even an imagination. Children must have the latest and greatest video games in order to be entertained. Even in teenage years and early adulthood technology cannot even cure boredom. How many times have you been on a social network to see people post that they are "bored"? With all the technology available now in devices that fit in the palm of your hand it is still possible to be bored. Thanks to consumerism and the want and desire to have the newest and the best of anything that money can buy, people are losing the ability to get by with just neccesities. Thinking about that just seems crazy but in reality it happens to most people, including myself, which is what drove m to write about this quote.

In the reading of "The Emergence of Consumerism" by Peter N. Sterns, there seems to stand a very Eurocentric view towards the subject as a whole. First starting with the demand in sugar, then continuing the matter with a production of clothing and cotton (Sterns 18). Further within the reading a sense of "style" and fashion erupted as people started to notice that "the wives and daughters of the most topping tradesmen vie with each other every Sunday in the elegance of their apparel"(21). This quote to me, makes me realize how important it is being a consumer. People are easily influenced by the "upper" class and their social status, in a way most of them look up to the higher class socially. This is found in today's date as well, with many of the teens following the trends of celebrities. I remember when I was young, clothes and accessories did not matter to me, then all of a sudden my teens rolled around and BAM, I had to have all the "fad" items. This probably happened back in the day, "every Sunday"(21) when the mothers and daughters went for their weekly tea. The existence of "apparel"(21) does not only affect the fact that there is new clothing to buy, and new styles to try out, but it has a great impact on "fitting in" with the crowd and feeling accepted. This feeling of acceptance may be the biggest push on the consumers of society, for both the upper and lower classes of our community.

“People do not redefine what life is about frequently; some powerful forces must have been involved.”(26) One of the powerful forces that I noticed may have been at play during the emergence of consumerism, and even now, is simply human’s instinctual nature to fit in. People before the eighteenth century people lived very humble lives, with food and shelter as their only worries. As objects that were seen as luxuries began to emerge and the privileged began to indulge in them, society followed. Luxuries became necessities and I believe a lot of it had to do with people not wanting to be considered an outsider. The prevalence of that has far from become extinct now in this day and age. Advertisements on the television, internet, and billboards concerning perfumes, clothing, make-up etc all portray good-looking people having a good time with whatever product they are endorsing. It isn’t hard to miss what the advertisers are essentially saying; if you want to be as happy, successful, and good-looking as these people you should buy our product. Consumers not wanting to be left behind by the rest of society jump on the band wagon and waste their money on products they feel are necessary. Everyone, including myself, has been there, feeling like you absolutely need something just because of its popularity , as the generations pass with no change the nature of consumerism will continue to grow becoming further embedded in our society.

"Production and sales now consisted of a combin­ation of trying to whip up enthusiasm for a new craze, with studying how tastes were spontaneously shifting. The goal was to be able to change frequently, so that people who had bought one set of plates or vases would have to come back again lest their possessions be out of date." (Sterns 20) This quote stood out to me because I think it is painfully true and relatable today. It blatantly states that businesses are out to create the next must-have fad and encourage people to buy, buy, buy. Then, they do the same with the next fad, and the next. It's nearly unreal how companies make their own products obsolete to force people to buy the next big thing. Electronic trends change like the weather and clothes are "over" before the season is. Our own culture tells us that we must have the newest, biggest, coolest, most stylish, and most expensive things. Society nearly requires us to buy, buy, buy and waste what is no longer "in style". The fact that this is all by design and that we fall for it so easily is disheartening. This is a money-making model so that businesses can continue to get business even when items are in perfect working conditions. A great example is the iPhone 5. How many people bough the iPhone 5 just to have it? The demand was incredibly high amongst those who had phones that worked perfectly well. There are countless other examples, but its almost disgusting how much our society puts our worth in our possessions.

"Finally, consumerism gains additional meaning through the advent of the idea of boredom, another eighteenth-century innovation." This quote is quite significant, even to this very day. Boredom entraps society in the "need, want" idea. Even if people felt bored before the 18th century, there were no words to describe that feeling. Little by little, this idea of boredom commercialized the need to always obtain new, sophisticated, top notch items. Society would shift and create consumerism. People began going into debt, something that rarely existed before. Consumerism entrapped people in the sales, in the trends, and in the new. Families wanted to fit in with society, and in many ways were forced to buy items like tea and watches to gain social stance. Consumerism today is completely blown out of proportion. The technological age continues to make innovative products and advanced technology. People become obsessed with these products, always upgrading, always wanting more. This quote seems to tell the beginning of a very very long and complex idea of Consumerism.

"Acquiring goods was becoming part of individuals' identity, their measurement of what a satisfactory life involved"(23). I chose this quote because it reminds me of another quote that I always remember and relate to, and that quote is "Cash rules everything around me" also known as C.R.E.A.M. This quote was from the legendary rap group the Wu-Tang-Clan, their quote has become deeply embedded into pop culture as many who know of the Wu-Tang-Clan, know their concept of C.R.E.A.M. The quote from the reading is related to this quote from the Wu-Tang-Clan because it essentially is saying that acquired goods, is what determines a persons worth in life. To me, that is a very powerful idea and that is why I decided to write on this quote. Just like when I first heard the quote from the Wu-Tang-Clan, reading this quote from the reading gave me the same feelings I initially had on the idea of money or "goods" as a measurement of ones life as a success or failure. The feeling that with the incorporation of goods and money and leisurely items, many people have lost their senses in what should truly determine a satisfactory life. That being, family, friends, loved ones, and passion.

“The same raging compulsions that drove some people to thirst for the latest style drove others, unable to indulge their needs, to steal.” (23) I find this quote quite interesting because it contradicts an idea that we have all been taught. They say money doesn’t buy happiness but according to Stearns those who couldn’t afford to be up to date with the newest trends had the compulsion to steal. Even back then people was drawn to the idea of being noticed and fashionable that they were willing to go to the extreme. We all know that stealing is frown upon in society and it shows bad character. Yet, people continue to steal because they think they need something but in reality it’s just the idea of proving to the world that you are better than others. However, it is simply just a vicious cycle. There will always be that one person who has more than you and more of those who have less. But we allow our competitive egoistic side gets the best of us and the cycle of consumerism continues.

"Production and sales now consisted of a combination of trying to whip up enthusiasm for a new craze, with studying how tastes were spontaneously shifting. " (20) I chose this quote because I believe that this method of creating new generations, styles, versions for all items drag in the consumers. With the help of another quote, "The same raging compulsions ·that drove some people to thirst for the latest style drove others, unable to indulge their needs, to steal."(23) Still to this day, people involve themselves with products and items to occupy their wants and needs. The latest edition creates a cycle never ends because new trends pop up and then leave. This cycle creates a society that continues to add on to their lists of wants because they think they need a new product while it is in style. With the new technology such as iPhone's, I recently got had a 3rd Generation iPhone and a few months after that, the new 4th Generation came out. The trick of the producers make the consumers feel that you "need" more items of the newest trend so you fit in. This method for production from many years ago continues to grow stronger within the idea of consumerism to this day.

"Finally, consumerism gains additional meaning through the advent of the idea of boredom, another eighteenth-century innovation." (Sterns 24). In today's society, the technological advancements are growing at an exponential rate causing new and revolutionary products to emerge at an exponential rate. Many of today's cutting edge technology could become tomorrow's obsolete version. As new technology emerges user experiences become better, making previous generations of models become obsolete and make the consumer want the newest piece of technology. New processors, screen sizes, versions of operating systems, and displays are all types of technology that are always becoming better and cause the previous versions to become not so appealing to the consumer. Boredom of technology is starting to become more prevalent as new devices and gadgets start to consume the user and make them believe that they are bored of their device and have them shell out money in order for them to have the latest device. Consumerism is beginning to make people get bored of their current device and want to upgrade their devices and have the lastest version or newest device.

"Imports also played a vital role in clothing. Cotton fabrics from India drew wide attention, because they could be dyed in bright colors and because they were cheap and easilv washable. Here too was a field soon exploited by Eutopean producers." (18) This quote described the expansion of colonial trade during the eighteenth century. I chose this quote because it also described to me the beginning of a new consumer America. Products outside of America started to become more popular and sought after. To this day, products in America were bought from all other nations. A market for cheaper material and increase in profit helped skyrocket America's economy and had citizens buying more. Buying clothes and toys made from other countries made it easy for Americans to purchase things they wanted, because everything was cheaper. This led to an increase in sweat shops and people working for low wages and long hours in third world countries. Imports are such a big part of America that a majority of the things we buy are made in different countries.

"The technology was different from that of our own time, quite obviously. Reaching individual homes was more difficult, use of visual imagery more restricted. But the grandiose themes of advertising were already fully established, as were the methods of drawing people into stores, lending money for items not really required, and adjusting production to fashion whims." (pg. 20) The human instinct to follow a trend stood out to me as a dominant message in the reading. This quote identifies that the roots of societal consumerism sprouted from the new advertising era. Despite the fact that technology in earlier centuries doesn't compare to technology today advertising was set in newspapers, window shops, pamphlets, and many other convenient locations that drew attention. Highly respected individuals were utilized as a form of advertisement as well. Common people followed in their footsteps and purchased items they used. Basically, the American society became interested in non-essential materialistic items that ultimately lead to the boom in the market revolution.

"The goal was to be able to change frequently, so that people who had bough one set of plates or vases would have to come back again lest their possessions be out of date."
I selected this because it demonstrates that business has not changed through the years. The general formula has remained the same shown by products such as tablets and cell phones. For example, the IPhone has gone through many changes but each one is only marginally better than the last. Companies still take advantage of people's desires to be "fashionable" or "up to date." I respect these tactics as they bring in money effortlessly but I have noticed that companies have become greedier as products do not last as long as they did before. Therefore, if trends do not make people go out and shop, they will go out to replace their malfunctioning product. This is mostly seen in electronics.

“Many people initially bought watches in order to look up-to-date, to be the first in their group to have one. Only later would they learn actually to tell time and use the item” (3).
I think this quote is interesting because it describes how people often buy products not because they will benefit or because they are making investments, but because they are concerned with keeping up with the latest popular items, even if it means buying a product one has not learned how to use. I believe that most people, including myself, often spend money foolishly in order buy unnecessary products that will enable us to “fit in” and come to of as financially stable.

"This new attention to comfort was part of redefining items that had once seemed luxuries into necessities, as with certain types of home furnishings or the availability of tea on a cold day"(24). This quote really stood out to me because its also very true in our society nowadays. Although this different mindset began several years ago, it has truly progressed through the following years. People continue to believe that many luxuries are actually necessities when in reality several people don't even have the basics. Although this may sound somewhat hypocritical, i believe people should not only be more thankful but learn not to take things for granted. I'll be the first to admit that i sometimes am not as thankful with everything that I have but then i soon come to realize just how blessed i really am. Its really a shame that people always want more and are never satisfied with what they have. Our society has truly been impacted by consumerism in many negative ways.

"A growing interest in umbrellas provides a fascinating example of the consumerist standards of comfort, and how new they were."
I find this section of the reading especially interesting. Umbrellas are a common commodity found in every household. With the emergence of consumerism, people's perception of comfort and normalcy have changed, leading to a completely different mindset. Something so insignificant in the past such as getting wet, posed a huge problem after the emergence of consumerism. Soon, everyone had umbrellas and now it is seen as an essential in a rainy environment. This leads to the subject of comfort in the past and in the now. Items that once were seen as luxuries are now seen as necessities, comfort redefining our perception on goods. People are becoming dependent on these "necessities," yearning for new and up-to-date products. We're becoming a bored and high maintenance society, full of desire and cravings. People buy more than they need, resulting in mass production of products and a surplus of items per individual. Inevitably, this leads to environmental degradation and the exploitation of poorer countries.

"By the eighteenth century, in fact, the list of items that people regarded as necessities was beginning to expand, a key facet of consumerist development."

I found this quotation to be quite relevant to today's consumerist society. To this day, there are several luxuries that we, the consumers, think of as "necessities." For example, I do not need over ten pairs of shoes, but based on the media, I think I do. Advertisements provided by the media help trigger a switch in our brain which makes us believe we "need" certain things, when in reality we do not. It is quite fascinating to ponder upon how much advertising, propaganda, and technology have advanced throughout the years. Time has been the main contributor to the expansion of consumerism, and I strongly feel that it will continue.

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This page contains a single entry by Nick Tingle published on December 7, 2012 10:51 AM.

Entry 1: Welcome was the previous entry in this blog.

Entry 3: Response to "Setting the Course: 1900-1930" is the next entry in this blog.

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