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Posts tagged consumption

Nate:
a Jezebel post by SadieStein, 27 June 2008 :: first posted here 27 June 2008

Researchers at Northwestern have found that feeling powerless leads people to shell out for expensive status items to bolster their egos — explaining why those deep in debt continue to spend. “After recalling situations where they were powerless, participants were willing to pay more for items that signal status, like silk ties and fur coats, but not products like minivans and dryers. They also agreed to pay more for a framed picture of their university if it was portrayed as rare and exclusive.” Okay, can’t really comprehend a situation demeaning enough that we’d be willing to pay any amount of money for a framed picture of our alma mater but who hasn’t restored a flagging sense of self with a handsome necktie from time to time? [Science Daily]

Andy:
from "A Power to Persuade," by Virginia Postrel, The Weekly Standard, 29 March 2010 :: via Arts & Letters Daily

[G]lamour always contains an illusion. The word originally meant a literal magic spell, which made the viewer see something that wasn’t there. In its modern, metaphorical form, glamour usually begins with a stylized image—visual or mental—of a person, an object, an event, or a setting. The image is not entirely false, but it is misleading. Its allure depends on obscuring or ignoring some details while heightening others. We see the dance but not the rehearsals, the stiletto heels but not the blisters, the skyline but not the dirty streets, the sports car but not the gas pump. To sustain the illusion, glamour requires an element of mystery. It is not transparent or opaque but translucent, inviting just enough familiarity to engage the imagination and trigger the viewer’s own fantasies.

Glamour can, of course, sell evening gowns, vacation packages, and luxury kitchens. But it can also promote moon shots and “green jobs,” urban renewal schemes and military action. (The “glamour of battle” long preceded the glamour of Hollywood.) Californians once found freeways glamorous; today they thrill to promises of high-speed rail. “Terror is glamour,” said Salman Rushdie in a 2006 interview, identifying the inspiration of jihadi terrorists. New Soviet Man was a glamorous concept. So is the American Dream.

Glamour, in short, is serious stuff.

Andy:
from "Ogori Cafe: Service With a Surprise," from PSFK, 5 October 2009 :: via Jared Mackey (thanks!)

Located inside the Urban Design Center Kashiwa-no-ha, the Ogori cafe looks innocuous enough, but holds a surprise in store for its patrons. In a nutshell, you get what the person before you ordered, and the next person gets what you ordered. Thus, if you’re in on the game, you can choose to be either a generous benefactor, and treat those that come after you – or try your luck at being cheap. Either way, it’s an interesting experiment that explores surprise, kindness and encourages interactions. . . .

[Caleb Stasser explains:] "As I sat down to enjoy my surprise Appletizer, loving this insane idea and wondering what would happen if you tried it in America, a Japanese woman approached the cafe. Since she could actually speak Japanese, she could read the large sign at the front and, fortunately or unfortunately, got advanced warning of what she was in for. Before making a final decision on what to order, she quietly snuck up to me to try to ask me what I had ordered, knowing that it would be her unwavering refreshment destiny. The staff put a quick stop to her trickery, and I didn’t answer.

"Of course, regardless of what she ordered, she got the orange juice I ordered a few minutes earlier. But here’s one of the moments that make this experiment cool: she actually chose orange juice, just like I did. So she got what she wanted. Ogori cafe synchronicity!"

Nate:

It seems to me that the best way to instantly raise your standard of living is to live in the past. If you subsist entirely on two-year-old entertainment, and the corresponding two-year-old technology used to power it, you’re cutting your fun budget in half, freeing up that money for more exciting expenditures like parking meters and postage.

The problem is that it’s hard living out of sync with the world around you. Just ask the Amish or Bill Cosby.

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from "Where The Buffalo Roamed," Weather Sealed, 22 September 2009 :: via information aesthetics
Andy:
Nate:
from "What's This All About?," by Sheena Matheiken, The Uniform Project, 17 June 2009 :: via GOOD, kottke, The Curator
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The Idea: Starting May 2009, I have pledged to wear one dress for one year as an exercise in sustainable fashion. Here’s how it works: There are 7 identical dresses, one for each day of the week. Every day I will reinvent the dress with layers, accessories and all kinds of accouterments, the majority of which will be vintage, hand-made, or hand-me-down goodies. Think of it as wearing a daily uniform with enough creative license to make it look like I just crawled out of the Marquis de Sade's boudoir.

The Uniform Project is also a year-long fundraiser for the Akanksha Foundation, a grassroots movement that is revolutionizing education in India. At the end of the year, all contributions will go toward Akanksha’s School Project to fund uniforms and other educational expenses for slum children in India.

The Story of Uniforms: I was raised and schooled in India where uniforms were a mandate in most public schools. Despite the imposed conformity, kids always found a way to bend the rules and flaunt a little personality. Boys rolled up their sleeves, wore over-sized swatches, and hiked up their pants to show off their high-tops. Girls obsessed over bangles, bindis and bad hairdos. Peaking through the sea of uniforms were the idiosyncrasies of teen style and individual flare. I now want to put the same rules to test again, only this time I'm trading in the catholic school fervor for an eBay addiction and relocating the school walls to this wonderful place called the internet.

excerpt Girls rock
Andy:

[When] our 10-year-old Jordan started to sound a little like the snotty teenagers she was watching on TV, Hannah Montana and Wizards were outlawed. Soon after, we were fortunate enough to be guests on the Cayamo [singer-songwriter cruise ship], and I made the family a mix of Cayamo artists for the drive down—Lyle Lovett, Patty Griffin, Kathleen Edwards, Over the Rhine, John Hiatt. But it was Brandi Carlile they kept wanting to hear. By the time we saw her concert, my girls knew most of the words. At Emma's ninth birthday party (a lock-in at the Paste office) she cranked up "The Story" for her friends like it was the latest Miley Cyrus hit. The requests for Radio Disney stopped, and I overheard Jordan telling her friends she doesn't think Cyrus is a very good singer anymore.

So when Brandi recently came within half a mile of our house last week to play a pair of intimate performances at Eddie's Attic, I took them to the early show. It was the first real club concert for my kids. Eddie's has a no-talking-during-the-performance rule, and my usually very loud children abided. . . . They mouthed all the words except when they couldn't resist singing along. When Brandi started clapping, they clapped. When Brandi told the audience to stand, Emma stood up on her stool with her hands in the air.

Jordan wrote her first song a couple of days after the show. She won't sing it to me yet, but the lyrics are great. She began guitar lessons earlier this year and is headed to girls rock camp this summer. Emma is saving up her money for a guitar now. When they think of a future rock star, the image is of a down-to-earth Carlile instead of a glammed-up Ashley Tisdale.

Andy:
from "Luxury or Necessity? The Public Makes a U-Turn," by Rich Morin and Paul Taylor, Pew Research Center, 23 April 2009 :: via Floyd Norris

No longer do substantial majorities of the public say a microwave oven, a television set or even home air conditioning is a necessity. Instead, nearly half or more now see each of these items as a luxury. Similarly, the proportion that considers a dishwasher or a clothes dryer to be essential has dropped sharply since 2006.

These recession-era reevaluations are all the more striking because the public's luxury-versus-necessity perceptual boundaries had been moving in the other direction for the previous decade. For example, the share of adults who consider a microwave a necessity was just 32% in 1996. By 2006, it had shot up to 68%. Now it has retreated to 47%. Similarly, just 52% of the public in the latest poll say a television set is a necessity -- down 12 percentage points from 2006 and the smallest share to call a TV a necessity since this question was first asked more than 35 years ago.

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from "What Did you Buy Today?," by Kate Bingaman-Burt, Obsessive Consumption 13 March 2009 :: thanks Daniel A. Siedell
Andy:
Andy:

To many participants, [crafting] is not a new shopping trend or even an art movement. It is a kind of consumption revolution, a community based on celebrating individual creativity and artisanal skill—and rejecting mass-produced goods. Like the brand underground entrepreneurs such as Barking Irons and the Hundreds, the DIY practitioners prized their independent, nonmainstream status. Crafters, however, often postioned their efforts as not just an alternative to or a luxurylike refinement of mass consumer culture, but an overt challenge to it.

“Crafting is a political statement,” Jean Railla, the founder of GetCrafty.com, argued in the first issue of a magazine called Craft, which appeared in late 2006. “With globalism, factory labor, and sweatshops as growing concerns, and giant chains like Starbucks, McDonald’s and Old Navy turning America into one big mini-mall, crafting becomes a protest.” Railla, whose 2004 book, Get Crafty: Hip Home Ec, placed self-made goods in the context of third wave feminism and a “bohemian” identity, returned in the new magazine’s second issue to argue on behalf of “the punk of craft.” Reiterating the political and “antiauthority” aspects of the “ethic of Do It Yourself,” she mused: “In the age of hypermaterialism, Paris Hilton, and thousand-dollar ‘It’ bags, perhaps making stuff is the ultimate form of rebellion.” . . .

[And yet . . . ] Grounded in commerce, the DIY movement not only accommodates consumption and even marketing, it depends on them. It’s not opposed to the meaning of objects, it’s about the meaning of objects.

Andy:

In the mid-1990s, firms like Sputnik, the Zandl Group, Teenage Research Unlimited, and Lambesis were getting hired by companies such as Reebok, Burlington, and PepsiCo to enlist and study allegedly trendsetting teens. “We did no research,” Irma Zandl, who has been in the trend business since 1986, once told Time magazine of her early days as a professional Magic Person. “I just had a golden gut.” By the early 2000s, her company claimed a network of three thousand carefully selected young people whose take on the zeitgeist was funneled into a newsletter sold to the likes of GM, Coke, and Disney, for $15,000 a year. Some key people from Lambesis formed Look-Look, which claimed a network of twenty thousand. The results of these businesses have been mixed. Aprons for men was one legendary trend-spotting gaffe that emerged from the mining of Magic People thoughts. In the mid-1990s, Sputnik predicted such trends as “guys in vinyl skirts,” “see-through track shoes,” and “suspenders with African-print shirts.”

excerpt Multiple choice
Andy:

If the key to the iPod had been individuality or togetherness, technology or style, form or function, it would not have been as successful as it has been. The more salient the iPod became, the more consumers discovered ways that it was relevant—but not because of any single specific property of the device. The key wasn’t in a single answer; it was in the variety of answers. And this is what connects it to the Livestrong bracelet. The iPod succeeded not because of any specificity, but because of multiplicity. It fit into many disparate personal narratives, by way of many disparate rationales. . . .

Red Bull, the Livestrong bracelet, and even the iPod built a mass audience by cobbling together smaller ones. They were multiple-choice success stories, and if the rationales of different consumer groups didn’t match up with one another (let alone some top-down official meaning), that didn’t matter.

Andy:

Many of the consumers that McVeigh interviewed about Hello Kitty complained about corporations targeting them, making them buy things—things like more Hello Kitty products. But as he pointed out, “Capitalist forces do not simply foist knickknacks on the masses, and we must give credit to the individual consumer who, after all, chooses to purchase certain incarnations of Hello Kitty but not others (or chooses not to buy Hello Kitty at all).” After all, if Sanrio’s managers could create dozens of Hello Kittys, they most certainly would—and they are trying all the time. In more than three decades of effort, they have never come close.

Not only can logos have meaning, and not only can that meaning be manufactured—it can be manufactured by consumers. Ultimately, a cultural symbol that catches on is almost never simply imposed, but rather is created and then tacitly agreed upon by those who choose to accept its meaning, wherever that meaning may have originated. . . .

Here, then, is the real problem with the argument that this new generation sees right through traditional advertising and therefore is not fooled by its messages: Everybody sees right through traditional advertising. You’d have to be an idiot not to recognize that you’re being pitched to when watching a thirty-second commercial.

But recognition is not the same thing as immunity. And what’s striking about contemporary youth is not that they are somehow brandproof, but that they take for granted the idea that a brand is as good a piece of raw identity material as anything else. These are the consumers, in fact, who are most amenable to using brands to fashion meaning for themselves—to define themselves, to announce who they are and what they stand for.

excerpt This just in
Andy:

The dimensions of the latest trends in consumer behavior were outlined in an overview in the Harvard Business Review. This new zeitgeist, the august publication explained, is being fueled by “the efforts of consumers themselves,” who have lately “become articulate.” One of the defining features of this fresh paradigm is the new consumer’s “demand for information.” They are banding together, becoming “better educated and better organized,” with a “growing familiarity with the mechanics of advertising” and the endless range of gimmicky sales tactics. They have “suffered from deceptive and stupid advertising” long enough, and it is only inevitable that power should shift to them in an economy that has moved from scarcity to abundance. “These changes,” the article summarized, “have tended to make consumers more critical and to enhance their importance.” Such was the state of things . . . in 1939.

Andy:

When I was in grade school, we watched a lot of films. Perhaps they were a relatively easy way to quiet the children down for a while. But remembering this period as an adult, I’m struck by the realization that those films all had one of two themes.

One was: Deep down, each of us is different, unique, and special.

The other was: Deep down, we are all just the same.

For years I shared this observation, for laughs, before it finally occurred to me that this was no joke. In fact, it articulated what is more or less the fundamental tension of modern life.

We all want to feel like individuals.

We all want to feel like a part of something bigger than ourselves.

And resolving that tension is what the Desire Code is all about.

by Andy Crouch for Culture Making

I’ve spent the past week reading a book that finds revealing patterns and surprising depth in even the most superficial trends of popular culture, that takes you on a journey to unlikely corners of our world, coins a number of would-be-buzzwords (Magic People, murketing, the “postclick” generation), and, like all the best journalism, puts into plain words things we already knew but didn’t have the language for.

And it’s not by Malcolm Gladwell. It’s way better than that.

The book is Buying In: The Secret Dialogue Between What We Buy and Who We Are by New York Times Magazine “Consumed” columnist Rob Walker, and if ready-for-airport-bookstore titles like that make you suspicious (and they should), you should give it a shot anyway. Walker has that Gladwell-like knack for weaving together anecdotes and first-person reportage, combined with a better-than-Gladwell ability to weave them into a clear arc of careful argument about how consumerism has changed our culture and our sense of ourselves. Perhaps more importantly, he demonstrates that consumer culture itself is changing in ways that neither its critics nor its promoters have fully understood. Walker even ends his book with some intriguing observations that, to this reader, lead directly to the threshold of issues of faith—including a perceptive reading of the success of Rick Warren’s book The Purpose-Driven Life.

I’ll be excerpting some of Walker’s more piquant insights here over the next few days. Enjoy, and if you are at all interested in our consumer culture, I encourage you to take up Buying In and read.

The Amish (a quaint static ripple whose way of life will never uncover the simplest new technological fix for the unfolding hazards of a dynamic universe) have long recognized that material culture embodies weird inspirations, challenging us, as eventual consumers, not with ‘copy what I do’, but a far, far more subversive ‘try me.’

—Timothy Taylor, "Culture," response to Edge.org's 2009 Annual Question, "What will change everything?"

Nate:

The experience of purchasing art shares much in common with viewing it in exhibits, according to a new study in the Journal of Consumer Research. Author Yu Chen (Oakland University) shows that visiting a gallery can provide many of the same benefits as buying a painting….

The author found that art collectors and visitors to galleries and museums share many desires and values, including otherness, sociality, philanthropy, spirituality, aesthetics, and novelty. How collectors differ from visitors is in their desire for a long-term intimate relationship with the artworks. Visitors want to avoid repetition and dullness, and like the experience of sharing art communally.

Chen also found that the experiences of both art purchasers and art viewers do not always correspond with their expectations. “This contradiction implies that desire and illusions, more than value and perceptions, are the driving forces behind consumption,” writes Chen.

Andy:
from "Online shopping and the Harry Potter effect," by Richard Webb, New Scientist, 22 December 2008

So why, with the cornucopia of goodies now available to us, are blockbusters not just still here, but getting bigger? On the face of it, Anderson’s idea of a divergence of tastes in the digital era is logical. But if the long tail effect does not exist, or is not as pronounced as was thought, what is really going on?

Elberse says it’s a bit like the influence of multichannel television on the economics of sport. In the old days, if you wanted to watch soccer, you went to watch your local team in the flesh. Now, she says, in the UK you are more likely to decide to stay at home and watch Chelsea play Arsenal. This change of allegiance cuts the cash flowing into the ticket office of your local club while boosting advertising revenues for TV, which accrue disproportionately in favour of the already wealthy top clubs.

It is a phenomenon known to economists as the Matthew effect, after a quotation from the gospel of that name: “For unto every one that hath shall be given.” Just as for the long tail effect, there is a plausible explanation of why it should be happening in the modern media environment: easy digital replication and efficient communication through cellphones, email and social networking sites encourage fast-moving, fast-changing fads. The result is a homogenisation of tastes that boosts the chances of popular things becoming blockbusters, making the already successful even more successful.

Nate:
from "A Nsenene Chronicle," by Minty, Sunshine, 2 November 2008 :: via Global Voices Online
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To those that have acquired the taste, nsenene is the object of undiluted greed for many Ugandans of all ages. A favourite joke is to tease a husband about finding himself on the receiving end of his pregnant wife’s tantrums if she asks for nsenene in the middle of the night, moreover on the wrong month.

During the month of Musenene, everyone was sure to get a mini harvest and neighbours would freely (maybe grudgingly too) share their catch.

Well, the romantic story of nsenene of old is no more. Today most of the grasshoppers that make the long trip from the Abyssinian heights end up at commercial harvesting rigs set up by ambitious greedy capitalists who have monopolized the catching of nsenene.

Weeks before the first insects are expected, building sites with top floors are booked and leased for the sole purpose of catching the most nsenene possible. The ‘combine harvesters’ consist of rows of huge barrels fitted with shiny new iron sheets and crudely wired light bulbs. The fluorescent lights bounce off the iron sheets, at once attracting and blinding the insects. When they hit the iron sheets the nsenene slide all the way down to the bottom of the barrel, literally. Security guards are hired to keep watch, and sometimes live electric cables are wired around the area to deter thieves. This way the monopolists lag home tonnes and tonnes of nsenene, and close out the ordinary people who used to get free ‘manna’ from heaven.