Captive to Consumerism
The only thing that consoles us for our miseries is distraction, yet that is the
greatest of our wretchednesses. Because that is what mainly prevents us from
thinking about ourselves and leads us imperceptibly to damnation. Without
it we should be bored, and boredom would force us to search for a firmer way
out, but distraction entertains us and leads us imperceptibly to death.
What do American emerging adults think and feel about the mass consumer society in which they have grown up? Are they comfortable with mass consumerism? Do they like it? Or do they have concerns about the environmental impact of mass consumerism or the misplaced values and priorities that some critics see in consumer materialism? What role does the buying and consumption of material things play in the lives, values, and goals of emerging adults today? This chapter explores the place of mass consumerism and materialistic visions of the good life among emerging adults. After a brief view of some survey statistics, we explore in some depth today’s emerging adults’ views of mass consumerism. In that discussion we focus on how critical or uncritical they are of our culture of material consumption. We then shift to examine emerging adults’ outlooks on what makes for a good human life, and how material consumption fits into that vision.
First, in our nationally representative telephone survey, we asked emerging adults some questions about materialism and consumerism. The findings help to provide a larger context for the analysis of our follow-up interviews with them. Among emerging adults ages 18–23, 65 percent said that shopping and buying things give them a lot of pleasure. Fifty-four percent said that they would be happier if they could afford to buy more things. And 47 percent felt that the things they own say a lot about how well they are doing in life. These are survey questions about which some respondents likely feel a social-desirability bias not to