Posts Tagged ‘John Hockenberry’

When Not Buying Is the Most Powerful Impulse

Tuesday, March 24th, 2009

If you spend as much time perusing green blogs and websites as I do, you can’t help but have noticed how many of these sustainability-touting enterprises are predicated on the usual orgy of consumerism, albeit with a green face. I realize it’s hard to make a living off of electronic publishing, guys, but really, how many green buying guides, organic body butters, and 100 percent bamboo arm warmers does the world need?

A few weeks ago, when I linked to Lance Mannion’s entertaining rant on retooling our economy built on “the buying and selling of toys and gizmos and lots of other useless crap,” I wondered how we would make the transition to a sane and sustainable economy. I got a glimpse on Saturday when I read John Hockenberry’s Metropolis essay on where we find ourselves right now, when nonbuyers are driving the market and not making a purchase is the most powerful impulse in the global economy.

Since the 1950s, Hockenberry points out, design and marketing have been all about “creating aspirational narratives with the aim of getting people to make purchases.” Things clearly went berserk. Global capitalism became “a frenetic quest for personal identity through brands and objects, before finally turning into an extreme ideology of shopping as a form of geopolitical defense. When George W. Bush famously urged Americans in 2001 to buy in response to terrorism, the aspiration ceased to be personal; it became a full-fledged nationalistic ideology.”

But now the aspiration is to buy nothing, whether because we’re exhausted, fearful, or broke. So Hockenberry speculates about new narratives and new design strategies for a time when no product is the best product. Hints: “one-for-life” tools, tech gadgets that can be infinitely upgraded with a minimum purchase, and truly durable appliances whose external colors and textures can be cheaply personalized or updated.