There was lots of collective fun-making when the recently predicted end of days did not come to pass. "Rapture photos" were posted (empty clothes in amusing places), and there was a frenzy of Facebook status updates monitoring the fun.
The real Armageddon for most of us will creep up more slowly -- it's the shift many are predicting to a post-consumer culture.
Consumer Culture is the water we swim in daily
If you live in the affluent societies of the first world, the dominant culture is a consumer culture. A nice definition is available on the AQR website:
A culture may be understood as a pattern of beliefs, values, meanings and customs shared by a group of people, often existing at an implicit or taken-for-granted level. Consumer culture suggests that consumption - the act of buying goods or services - is a cultural activity, one imbued with meaning and driven not just by practical or economic factors. Mapping and exploring the business implications of these cultural meanings is one of the principal functions of qualitative market research.
Consumer culture is not the only thing going on, but it's a big part of our individual and collective mission to make meaning.
If you doubt this, here's a simple self-test for you -- name the first 10 brands that come to mind.
For most people, this exercise quickly becomes complex, especially if done in a group. Are you a Tide person? Are you defined by Crest? By Apple? By Mercedes? By Prada? By Black + Decker?
Global Alarming -- the forces driving change
There are signs that things are changing. Terrorism and the uncertainties it has brought to all of the first world (we now get to share the terror with the rest of the world, who never stopped experiencing it), is thought by many to be an important driver of cultural change.
Our increasing awareness that the planet cannot indefinitely support this level of abuse is another important driver. It's not just air pollution now, or the holes in the ozone layer -- we have an abundance of environmental issues that are concerning: overfishing, extinctions, climate change, water shortages, melting glaciers, and peak oil, to name a few.
The global recession is another key driver here, adding an immediate need for many to look at their individual lifestyle and decide what is important.
What it all means for business and marketing
A nice piece of work from David Carlson called "Closed Wallets, Closed Minds" looks at this phenomenon from the designer's perspective. "We are increasingly suffering from consumption fatigue", says Mr. Carlson. Companies that want to be part of this change, rather than a victim of it, will need to "listen to what the consumer wants, rather than tell them".
Mr. Carlson posits that a relationship economy is forming, but admits none of us can really see the future.
Only the future will tell if the climate of anti-consumerism is genuine, or if we are only on a pause between mad bouts of bag filling.
It's a beautifully constructed report, as always, and will get you thinking -- as it did me.
What's your take?
What signs of change are you seeing? I love to hear your comments, thoughts and observations.