Ideas and support for organisations and individuals seeking a better world
Thursday, 12 December 2013
Consuming experiences, not stuff, is still consumerism
I went to an interesting talk at the RSA today by James
Wallman who has just published a book called 'Stuffocation'. His
basic argument was that in the society of scarcity of around a
generation ago, what mattered in life was having more stuff – i.e.
in a society of scarcity, materialism is not a dirty word.
But as we have moved into a society of plenty,
materialism and 'more stuff' are no longer the answer to the question
of 'What will make us happy?'. So far, so good.
He goes on to suggest that, in our society of plenty,
what we do is now more
important than what we have
in terms of its contribution to our happiness. He therefore
advocates the idea of 'experientialism' – of seeking experiences
rather than new stuff.
He made some interesting arguments but the trouble is he
didn't go far enough. He was careful to state that he didn't want
his ideas to be seen as anti-consumerist – but why not? The only
way they would have any real value is if they were
anti-consumerist. Otherwise, he is simply shifting the problem of
consumption from stuff to experiences. We'll be on a treadmill
seeking the next new experience and trying to find the money and
lifestyles to enable these experiences to happen, and rather than
enjoying our experiences our lives will become a list of experiences
to try and tick off. It'll be no different to our attitudes towards
stuff today. And in fact we already have this attitude towards
experiences! See the forthcoming Life Squared booklet 'How to
achieve less' – out at the end of the year – for more details on
The problem we have in the modern world is about much
more than having too much stuff and the fact that this doesn't make
us happy. The broader problem is the fact that our lives are
focussed on acquiring this stuff and of chasing a particular vision
of 'the good life' that seeks us to acquire more. The point is that
we're making too many sacrifices in terms of our personal identities,
autonomy, stress levels and fulfilment in order to chase this
We live in a bubble in the modern world. We need to
help people burst this bubble and live truly autonomous lives. That
is the only way we'll lead the fulfilled lives we really want – and
sadly just changing our consumption from stuff to experiences won't
The idea of this blog is to share some ideas and news that cross all the areas of my work - from fundraising to well-being and from behaviour change to organisational management. And of course some personal views!
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