Tuesday, June 7, 2005

Too Much?

The internet mojo working its stuff: three semi-related pieces on the problems facing American consumers.

First, a blog posting from Michael Blowhard on overabundance:

Perhaps life in a consumer utopia has its dark sides. We live in a culture that's much more responsive, at least materially, to what we want -- or at least to what we think we want and say we want -- than it once was. Yet does getting what we say we want always turn out as well as we hope it will?

Second, one of Terry Teachout's readers worries that we now have too much art:

In other words, is the demand for new art diminishing--not because we are a soulless culture obsessed with celebrity and real estate--but because there's more than enough great stuff out there to consume, and we don't have nearly enough time to enjoy it? There seems to be such a glut of everything artistic these days. In jazz alone, I could go on listening to new and already-heard stuff from the same 1940s and 1950s period until I dropped dead at 100 without running out, and that's jazz alone. Meaning, I really don't need any more jazz to be produced. It's all on disc. I don't need any more cabaret singers singing Cole Porter, or young guys in suits playing Fats Navarro, etc.

And, finally, Virginia Postrel assures us that all this "too much of a good thing is a bad thing"-talk is all wrong:

Since different people care intensely about different things, only a society where choice is abundant everywhere can truly accommodate the variety of human beings. Abundant choice doesn’t force us to look for the absolute best of everything. It allows us to find the extremes in those things we really care about, whether that means great coffee, jeans cut wide across the hips, or a spouse who shares your zeal for mountaineering, Zen meditation, and science fiction.

Postrel makes some good points, but, on a gut level, I sympathize more with Michael and Mr. Teachout's correspondent. I'm reminded of a bit from Greg Egan's sci-fi novel Quarantine, where Axon--a kind of futuristic self-help company that manufactures nano-tech "serums" that instantly make their users smarter, better able to deal with people, more successful, etc--is advertising a new product: serums which give their users a sense of purpose. The ad goes:

"For more than twenty years, Axon has been helping you to attain life's riches. Now we can help you to want them!"

And this gets at what Postrel seems to miss: our modern consumer society gives us all these choices, but eats away at the sense of purpose necessary to make making choices meaningful and fulfilling.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I am a consumer because I like to go shopping.