11 December 2007

Consumer Week: The perils of wanting.

As I mentioned, it's Consumerism Week on Wormbook, a time when I will be reviewing a few books about buying, spending and materialism. I'm not doing this for you, I'm doing it for me, but I would love to hear your comments (as always). Let's kick it off with psychology professor Tim Kasser and his brief book THE HIGH PRICE OF MATERIALISM.

Kasser's book puts forth and supports two theories: First, materialism makes our lives harder because it's always driving us towards more stuff, instead of things we need like human relationships. And second, materialism feeds and nourishes our own insecurities in such a way that it will never make us feel better. Instead, the more you value "keeping up with the Joneses," the more you perceive a discrepancy between what you value and what you actually have.

And a lot of this psychological work is done unconsciously, as Kasser shows in analyzing his own studies (where, for example, he had people rank certain values in their own lives) and many others from other labs. Because of these studies, literally hundreds of which are mentioned, I found this book extremely informative but also somewhat dry. It's not until the last chapter that he offers tips like "Get off the materialistic treadmill" and even recommends therapy if you have an extreme case of what the Berenstain Bears would call "the gimmes." He also makes some social suggestions which are reasonable (regulating marketing to kids, the most vulnerable to materialistic messages) and some which are a little fanciful (banning ads on public roads and public transit, asking to trade your next raise for a week of vacation). If you're interested in the sociology of buying or in scientific studies on consumerism, you'll like this book; otherwise, it's a better reference than a read.

Tomorrow: Judith Levine's NOT BUYING IT.


Anna said...

not enough service nuggets, eh?!


Teacher lady said...

Hi! I'm new hear, but I wanted to put in a pitch for Affluenza. The book is based on a PBS special (the special came first - weird, isn't it?) and I found it tremendously eye-opening.

Ellen said...

Teacher lady, I have that one checked out as well! It is a little odd that the special came first, but I guess I could always watch the special later.