Oops! Your Circus Tent Is Loose (Part 3)

By March 18, 2008 culture, faith No Comments

Marketers have long known that consumers are heavily influenced by the experience associated with the purchase of the brand. For example, why is shopping at discount considered chic at Target but not so at Wal-Mart? What is so appealing about meeting friends for a $4 coffee at Starbucks rather than grabbing a $1 coffee at McDonald’s?

Thinking through the why behind the what in purchase behavior is fascinating (something I enjoyed studying in grad school), but it does deflate the excitement of the purchase experience in real time. Who wants to over-analyze the simple joys of a yummy coffee or strolling around Target? As consumers and friends, we connect in such behavior.

NPR’s Talk of the Nation program titled “Forecasting Trends: Who Defines the ‘New Black’?” interviewed Douglas Rushkoff who proposes that our identities and interconnectedness have become almost synonymous with the things that we consume. He notes that prior to World War II, community was built as people joined together to “produce” and “work hard”—connecting on the basis of becoming responsible adults who were committed to providing and caring for their families and those around them. It was expected that young people would transition into adulthood by joining this same cause (including the components of work, marriage, and children). After the war, however, consumption and consumerism was encouraged nationwide to boost our deflated economy. Consumption then became the connectedness of community, and it has stuck.

I believe our consumption mentality touches all aspects of life—what we eat, read, watch, participate in. Consumption itself is the basis of our sharing, our socializing, and our entertaining. And that takes me back to the “consumption” of blogging mentioned in my first post in this series—do I blog because I want to write and connect and share or do I blog because I want to be part of (or be known as part of) this community? Because if I do not participate and consume, I won’t be accepted; I will be the odd one out.

What this boils down to is the use of external props to define and shape one’s persona. I must admit that these surface elements are quick and easy measures of one’s personality and values. But I also think that snap judgments based on a conglomeration of products and brands is shallow at best. People are more than what they consume. If we dig just a bit deeper, at least we might uncover the motivation for choosing certain brands or activities or interests—motives would at least expose a bit of the human heart, with all its insecurities.

Is there any way to push back against this “community by consumption”? Probably not on a global level. But individually, I think this can happen, as we seek to know people’s hearts. We’ll have to cut through the consumerism, but to know another person on a heart-level makes the effort worth it.

This is the third in a series of posts on how we attempt to define and shape ourselves.

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