“There was a time when big was beautiful, more was better, and greed was good. If that time had a heyday, it was the Eighties. If it had a hero, it was Gordon Gekko. And if it had a big, important name, its name was materialism.
Although Gekko and his shouting, his braces and love of money feels out of place today, there was an era when, as he might have put it, it made a whole lotta sense.
That era was the 20th century, which made sense of the counterintuitive idea that if we wanted to have more, we had to spend more. The idea had been floated hundreds of years before by an Englishman called Bernard Mandeville. In his 1715 satire the Fable of the Bees, Mandeville wrote about a group of prosperous bees who lived a life of luxury and ease. But after grumblings that their lifestyle lacked virtue, they turned away from their fraud, greed and extravagance, to a new life of simplicity, honesty and temperance. You might think that would be a good idea. But as the fable showed, if the bees gave up their vices, especially their greedy, high-spending ways, that would be the end of their easy, luxurious life as well.
The same logic which had worked for Mandeville’s bees in the fable also made perfect sense for society in the 20th century – and especially for a city such as London. If people spent more they would create a virtuous circle where everyone benefited: more jobs, more wages, and higher standards of living for us all. This all hinged on people like you and me thinking greed was good and more was better. And it worked. It delivered unprecedented improvements in standards of living.
But then something happened. Or rather, lots of things did. And they have all added up to what I think is the defining problem of our generation, a problem I call “Stuffocation”.
Mass production leads to mass consumption that leads to mass depression.
Stuffocation is that feeling you get when you look in your bulging wardrobe and can’t find a thing to wear; when you have to fight through piles of stuff you don’t use to find the thing you need, and when someone gives you a present and your gut reaction isn’t “thank you”, but “what on earth makes you think I could possibly want or need that pointless piece of stuff?”
Instead of thinking of “more” in positive terms, like we used to, we now think more means “more hassle”, “more to manage” and “more to think about”. In our busy, cluttered lives, more is no longer better. That’s why, overwhelmed and suffocating from stuff, we are feeling Stuffocation.” James Wallman for Standard
James Wallman is trendsetter and book author who forged the term Stuffocation, which he presented in a talk to the Royal Society of Arts in London, last December. See the live talk here.
According James Wallman, the counterpoint of Stuffocation is Experientialism. By living experiences, we fulfill our necessity of status, of showing off our achievements. Through social medias, we’re able to show many people what we are experiencing; the places we go, the people we meet, the good we do…and that experiences count more than things we possess.
Nice idea to start 2014.