Recently I’ve been reading Media Unlimited, a book I stumbled upon while searching Amazon one day. It is written by Todd Gitlin, a professor of sociology and journalism at Columbia University. The book deals with the sticky subject of “how the torrent of images and sounds overwhelms our lives.” Through a couple of [long!] chapters, I’ve already been given much to think about.
This brief excerpt of the book caught my attention. It deals with the consumerism inherent to our society and shows how this consumerism came about and how it now leads to constant dissatisfaction.
[T]he Great Depression was a turning point, frightening workers with the burden of an impoverished free time. After World War II, pent-up consumer demand for a high-consumption way of life was boosted by government subsidies (via the low-interest mortgages and expensive highways that helped suburbanize the country). The die was cast: the public would choose money over time, preferring to seek its pleasures and comforts in the purchase of goods guaranteed to grow ever more swiftly obsolescent rather than in the search for collective leisure—or civic virtue…
Of course, the curious thing about consumer pleasures is that they don’t last. The essence of consumerism is broken promises ever renewed. The modern consumer is a hedonist doomed to economically productive disappointment, experiencing, as sociologist Colin Campbell writes, “a state of enjoyable discomfort.” You propel your daydreams forward, each time attaching them to some longed-for object, a sofa, CD player, kitchen, sports car, only to unhook the desires from the objects once they are in hand. Even high-end durable goods quickly outwear the thrill of their early arrival, leaving consumers bored—and available. After each conquest comes a sense of only limited satisfaction—and the question, what next?