Have you heard about Conspicuous consumption?


Last week, I talked about why we buy useless stuff. This time, I’ll go very specific on a particular buying behavior that we all had done at least once in our lives. I got a reminder about this as I watched last week’s Patriot Act; the host Hasan Minhaj went deep on talking about the wildly popular streetwear brand Supreme. In that episode, he mentioned “conspicuous consumption”.

According to Investopedia, conspicuous consumption is the purchase of goods or services for the specific purpose of displaying one’s wealth. Conspicuous consumption is a means to show one’s social status, especially when the goods and services publicly displayed are too expensive for other members of a person’s class. This type of consumption is typically associated with the wealthy but can also apply to any economic class. The concept of consumerism stems from conspicuous consumption.

The term was coined by American economist and sociologist Thorstein Veblen in his 1889 book “The Theory of the Leisure Class”. This type of consumption was considered to be a product of the developing middle class during the 19th and 20th centuries.

This tendency to flaunt can perhaps be traced back to tens of thousands of years, where our human ancestors have viewed possessions as extensions of themselves, as evidenced by the objects found in ancient graves. Humans also use possessions to signal our identity and status to others.

Although this is nothing new, what has changed is that with steadily increasing living standards during the 20th century and even today, where more people around the world can now indulge in a pattern of consumption where outward appearances are more important than utility.

Social media has helped normalize it, in which the experience of affluence must be documented and shared online. Reveling in the thrill of a good purchase, the instinct is to share it with friends and followers online.

Conspicuous consumption can be exemplified by the purchase of goods that are almost exclusively designed with the intent of serving as symbols of wealth. While there are many examples out there, we can cite a high-end smartphone or clothing brand on the market (Example: iPhones, Supreme).

If we focus on utility, smartphones are devices for communicating in various ways. And yet, there are luxury versions (of laptops, smartphones, clothes) that are encased in gold or diamonds, but the functionality is just the same. For clothing, its function is to protect our bodies from the elements (heat, cold, etc.) but with the emergence of fashion, it has become something else.

We all know that buying expensive doesn’t always mean that it is the best product out there; there are far less expensive versions that are out in the market.

Sometimes this leads to a vicious cycle of “keeping up with the Joneses”, when two people or families each feel that they need to buy more things to show they’re just as wealthy as the other.

Happiness is the ultimate goal we all want, not money.

If we want to be happy, we ought to spend less time sending signals through consumerism and more on the activities that matter. This needn’t mean rejecting any of the vast technological and social advances we’ve made. It could mean spending more time in nature, with family, or in deep face-to-face conversations.

Wealth is not simply defined by money and possessions but by good health, valuable experiences, and the strength of social relationships.


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Have you heard about Conspicuous consumption? Have you heard about Conspicuous consumption? Reviewed by Vernon Joseph Go on Thursday, December 20, 2018 Rating: 5

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