Post consumerism - RSA

Post consumerism

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Let me make a prediction. Over the next few months and years we will get used to a new catch phrase; 'post consumerism'. Why? Simply because this concept forms at the intersection of a problem of human development and an external shock.

There is a growing willingness to assert that well-being, as distinct from material success, is the aim of life. This in turn has two strands; the limited correlation between wealth and contentment amongst the well-off and the sense that in poor communities, particularly among the young, the problem is as much one of psychological resilience as of material deprivation.

The external shock is the combination of climate change, rising prices and commodity shortages, and the likelihood of several years of economic stagnation.

So, just as we are starting to ask whether shopping really is the route to happiness we find we can’t afford to buy as much anyway; of such a concatenation are cultural turning points made. Of course, it could go the other way, when we find we can’t spend, spend, spend we might suddenly realise how our lives depend on it and demand that Government use up all the resources NOW (in which case the human race is doomed to triviality, conflict and well deserved species extinction).

If you think this is just the ravings of an old leftie who has found a new excuse to indulge his anti-capitalist tendencies, here are the words of Sir Martin Sorrell, arguably the most powerful marketing man in the world 'our view, counter to what you expect, is that conspicuous consumption is not productive, and should be discouraged' (thanks to Jules Peck for pointing out this quote in this week's Campaign magazine).

Here are eight ideas that will rise on the tide of post consumerism:

  • Sustainable design - this week the Design Council asserted in their new three year plan that good design must by definition be sustainable design
  • Urban self sufficiency - time to stop ogling Felicity Kendall (if you are a man over 40) and start taking notes when watching The Good Life on UK Gold
  • Make do and mend - disinvest in EasyJet and buy shares in darning wool manufacturers
  • Upgradeability - technology and white goods being made so they can be upgraded without being thrown away (zero tolerance to built in obsolescence)
  • City closet dwellers - people too embarrassed to admit they used to work in financial services
  • Anti-consumerist chic - celebrities will positively want to be seen wearing the same outfit they wore five years ago
  • Post consumerist gaming - forget Grand Theft Auto V, the must-have video games will be 'carbon killers' and 'investment banker shoot 'em up'
  • The rise of the vegetarian super chef - forget macho, swearing, blood soaked cooks; we are all going to learn to do interesting things with lentils
  • Punk poet John Cooper Clark once said (I think) the world will end not with a bang but with a Wimpy. Cheap, disposable, unhealthy consumer capitalism is collapsing under the weight of its own contradictions. Hoorah!

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    • If you want to see an anti-consumerist game, perhaps you should look at Little Big Planet? It has a recycled aesthetic and tries to focus on building things for other people and free shared content. Spore works in the same way, and interestingly, both have seen complaints because of the way they sacrifice depth for approachability. In effect their democratisation has had a levelling down effect because the idea was "getting everyone involved" and a focus on amateurism instead of spreading professional levels of skill.

      This is a general problem is participatory frameworks, and it seems to require an educational component to get around it, as well as the expectation that more advanced concepts and discussions could be handled if they were put on the table in the right way. In game terms this can mean implementing more complex rule structures that can be built into the game, such as trigger logic etc.

      In participatory design? Well one way is to allow the brief to expand, and to allow participants to try to solve other adjacent problems if they can get the hang of the existing ones. And providing information about required internal structure when asking for product design submissions, rather than letting people squiggle out impossible shapes and then ignoring them!

      I think you were probably joking here, but who cares, there's value in this stuff anyway.

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