Material World

Has Our Culture Moved Away From Materialism?

We live in a material world where all we care about is stuff. We often choose new objects over people. While it is true that many of us spend more time connected to computers, cell phones, televisions, tablets, and iPods, we do not value these things.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines materialism as “the tendency to treat material possessions and physical comfort as more important or desirable than spiritual values”. And yet, Americans throw out 1 million pounds of garbage per person every year. Furthermore, today, the average American woman owns 30 outfits, compared to 9 in 1930. An average American family will spend $1,700 on clothes every year. However, we also throw out on average 65 pounds of clothing each year.


How is it possible that we can be a culture that values buying stuff more than anything, but also throws out the most stuff internationally? Currently 60% of private consumption is done by 12% of the world’s population, located in North America and Western Europe. So it is quite clear that there is no argument that we live in a culture that loves to buy more of everything. In this way we are living in Madonna’s world. But perhaps our definitions need to be modified. Materialism values comfort and nice things. Postmaterialism is “a reaction against materialism, emphasizing instead the importance of spiritual values, concern for the environment”. It seems that we are somewhere in between where we do not value anything except newness.

Perhaps you remember the square iPod Nano 6th generation. It was introduced in 2010 and was replaced in 2012 by the current Nano’s predecessor. It looked a lot like today’s Apple Watch and cost a fraction of the price. In fact, when this iPod came out you could buy a wristband for it and wear it as a watch.

While the Apple Watch features many more impressive technological improvements, the basic idea of a player that doubles as a watch could originally be bought for the price of an iPod Nano ($179), but now costs at least $349. Nearly double the price.

Perhaps the most interesting fact is that 10 days before the Apple Watch was available for purchase, pre-orders were already estimated at nearly 2.3 million units. Most of these people probably already have iPods, iPads, iPhones, or some sort of digital device that can allow them to tell the time, play music and text. And yet they still bought an Apple Watch.

Don’t get me wrong, the Watch is awesome. But it illustrates the fact that our society has gone beyond valuing objects over people. They value the newness, the innovation, the different-ness, the shinyness, and trendiness of objects. Perhaps if people could be replaced as quickly as technology and toys we would value them too. Just kidding, I’m sure most of us value our friends and family. Sort of.

We live in a world, or perhaps on a continent, that values newness, innovation, business, improvement, and progress. It has slowly drifted away from a place where the few things and people we had in our lives meant a lot to a time when we are always waiting for The Next Big Thing. I don’t know if that’s materialism, but I know it’s not post-materialism…perhaps it is some sort of new type of materialism that we have yet to name.

by Marie Fester

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