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.