It’s not surprising that ‘consumerism‘ emerged as a thing in the post World War 2 era. The last 50 years of the 20th century was a time when we quickly homogenised under the influence of the TV Industrial Complex. We all drifted into a suburban symmetry with little variety in the western world. People had to find a way to display their worth to their tribes and wider community. As many of us entered administrative jobs (think white collar clerk work) which literally looked like we were doing the same things, we needed to find a way to show our position in the hierarchy. And boom – hello consumer land. The more people had, a better car, better clothing, more expensive toys, better furniture, the more successful people would think we were. It was an unwritten ground rule we all abided by. And it was a very effective way to show people that we were creating ‘economic value’. Someone’s consumption patterns told the story of where they sat in society.
I’m starting to wonder if the ‘experience economy’ has the same underlying driver. Sure, we all claim that we’ve moved beyond shallow consumerism, that experiences are more valuable and worthy, but it could be that they provide the same emotional benefit and are just different tactic.
For me it’s more than a coincidence that the experience economy is emerging at a time when people now have the tools to show off their experiences. In the past, our experiences were invisible to all but those who viewed a photo album in our home or heard our story first hand, face to face. Now our experiences are only matched by our desire to share them on every social tool we use. The shift to the experience economy has come at a time when it’s finally possible to share what we do, in ways we never could. Just like conspicuous consumption, experiences can now be shared with strangers, loose associates and colleagues. Even the profile pic is best suited to a tropical locale, or the burning man festival. It sends a message just like a fancy automobile can.
I don’t know if this idea resonates with anyone else, but I do now that a great deal of our human drivers have not changed in 200,000 years – just the ways we express them does.