The Next New Thing.
A Commentary on State of Stuff in America
by Lawson Meadows, Guest Blogger.
The American consumer pattern is to seek the next new thing, not just for the stuff, but for the status.
The “new” next new thing arrives, and the “old” next new thing is now the next old thing: a typical pattern of the American consumer. However, consider that consume means “to destroy”; does that make all the good little consumers good little destroyers? Most marketers count on it, and so it is, in virtually every aspect of product development and delivery: from cell phones morphing into multi-faceted electronic tethers, to more economical, safer, faster cars; from razors with ever-increasing blades and longer-lasting lubricant strips, to the predictably unpredictable changes in fashion… the examples continue seemingly ad infinitum. Better, faster, prettier, sexier, longer lasting, and brimming with status directly transferrable to the consumer… so they say; so we believe.
Almost from birth, external influences push and prod us to use, discard, and replace as required for social acceptance based on the perception of status.
Consumer training begins early; we are driven by the actions we witness, words we hear, pressures we endure, and their accompanying, albeit transient, patina of satisfaction born from the consumption of “stuff”. However, consumption is not merely destroying or “using up” material things; it is the process by which we benefit from burning the log of status. The perception of value is in our minds, and in our lives, and therefore within us; though the value is not real, perception makes it seem so. We want to acquire the next new thing for the perceived status, or more importantly, to avoid its loss… this is clearly seen as important and necessary by many, if not most of the American consumers.
Stuff is OK until the fear of losing it causes anxiety over loss of status.
Let me be clear, I like stuff, and getting stuff is fine when it does not share the stage with the fear of loss: not so much the loss of stuff, but the loss of stuff status. It is not just the product development and marketing departments that understand this; I think most of us understand it too. Yet we trade our knowledge for the armor of ignorance, so we can feel good, feel important, and it helps us avoid the one action considered anathema by consumers… devaluation due to a loss of stuff status.
We fail to act in our best interests when we trade self-definition for definition from others, and that is sort of, well… dumb.
The status in the next new thing acquires its value from those who bow to external judgment. They rely on the observations and opinions of others to find not only definition, but acceptance. They are defined from the outside, by the outside, and for the outside based on the status of their stuff. They fear the thought of defining themselves for themselves and see no future in that anyway, because there is no new status in settling for the real constant and consistent you, without your stuff. Again, most of us understand this, but often reject or ignore it: we fail to make it a priority. We are conditioned to accept that it is the new stuff which is necessary for happiness, and this is where the dumb arrives. It is dumb, and ultimately self-defeating, to know how to behave in the best interest of yourself and those you care for, but choose not to.
Negative lessons learned in childhood, when embraced and perpetuated, can establish behaviors that render adults less than self-confident and self-directed.
I do not believe childhood experience is an excuse for wrong action, yet there are fully-grown, intelligent, seemingly successful adults, who often behave in a manner ill fitting their best interests, denying what should be obvious. Childhood experience can teach not only the fear of being at odds with the opinions of others, but eventually the habit of relying on outside judgment. Decisions are molded to avoid negative returns from others rather than to reflect the integrity of their lives. They believe without the next new thing, others will see them as inferior, and unqualified for acceptance into the status driven social level they are trained to desire. Oddly, much of the fear’s justification is only surface deep, and not supported by the opinions and actions of others: fear can distort reality.
The knowledge of how little others think about us can be a shock to those who believe they always do.
To paraphrase an old saying: “If you knew how little others think about you, you would not be so concerned about what they think about you.” Yet the fear of judgment from others drives the consumer frenzy for the next new thing. Wearing out-of-fashion Manolo Blahnik’s; a dated pants suit to a business meeting; driving a mid-sized American car to a High School reunion; watching the Super Bowl on a 24” screen; having a flip-phone that is just a phone; and heaven forbid, being “sooo yesterday!” can drive to irrational action those who labor under the illusion that status must be made manifest in that it defines your place in the world.
What is referred to as of late as the “New Normal” might better serve both the individual and the whole of our culture if one of its components was the ability to self-value.
Self-valuing, when done in conjunction with the other “selvess” (confidence, reliance, respect, and even healthy self-love) not only benefits to the individual, but like the ripples from a stone thrown in a pond, the effects spread to family, friends, business acquaintances, casual observers, and others. It is an internal process of evaluation and judgment, observing one’s actions in the context of both circumstance and personal consideration. Ultimately, we must wean ourselves from the next new thing concept, and refocus, so we can exhibit the right kind of example for the next new generation.
This could be the “Next Right Thing”
The ability to gain internal satisfaction, approval, and even status, and then measure oneself against your potentials and capabilities, may not be the next new thing, but it would be the next “Right” thing. When you rely on “your” talents, behaviors, self-evaluation, and judgment, you are be better able to learn from mistakes, heal your wounds, and reach your potentials as you pursue our passions.
What do you think?
What about you? How confident are you about being a self-defined consumer? Have you considered the effect your purchase patterns have on those around you… especially your kids? Do you see this as a problem? Is the next new thing for you a new phone or car… or a new approach?
Lawson Meadows, married for 40 years, is a father, entrepreneur, instructor, writer, and a passionate student of the family. His web site – DaMoKi.com – is dedicated mainly to family dynamics, and preparing kids to become fully functional adults. His passion is to complete and publish his book “DaMoKi Concepts – Raising Great Kids”, and affect as much positive change as possible in the next generation.