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The Growth of Materialism in Our World

CWanamaker enjoys reading, writing, and learning about the world around us.

It is very apparent that our society is seeing a continued shift towards an increase in material values and a decrease in spiritual values. Owning the latest and greatest technology is a top priority for many people these days. It has gotten so bad that I see many families who struggle just to keep up with everyone else (e.g., "Keeping up with the Jones"). A lot of parents I know will work very hard to give their kids what they perceive that everyone else has. However, if you really step back and think about it, it's not necessary or healthy to do that. It's really unfortunate to see so many people under pressure just keep up with society. This pressure to buy more stuff is reinforced by our advertisement friendly world and the increasingly intense integration of technology in our lives.

The issue of materialism is so apparent in society today that it actually defines who we are as people. The United States of America is often touted as the most materialistic nation in the world. Its inhabits are even identified by the number of things they own or the amount of money that they've accumulated. We certainly love our stuff . So much so that it's often at the detriment of our relationships with others, our quest for knowledge & wisdom, and even our health.

More often than not, the irony of this entire situation is that many people don't even really care about (or fully utilize for that matter) the stuff that they accumulate. Using the "Keeping up with the Jones" analogy, people seem to buy things they don't need with money they don't have just to impress people that they don't know or possibly even like.

Come On, Isn't Technology and "Stuff" Changing Things for the Better?

Many people often say that the future will be better than the past. In many aspects I would argue that they are correct. However, in terms growing materialism and the loss of spiritual values, I highly doubt that most things will change for the better in the future. Why? Well, there is no outside force that will act as an impetus for positive change in the future (i.e., there isn't anything acting against the increase in materialism). As technology keeps getting better and we keep letting it permeate deeper into our lives, society will just keep progressing forward in the same direction. People will accumulate more things, spend more time online or in front of a TV, and traditional values will suffer. In fact, people will become so absorbed in technology that our human relationships will ultimately suffer and be reduced to nothing more than an annoyance or a chore (if future humans decide to interact with each other at all anymore).

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In addition to this, I think what you'll see in the future is an increase of societal segments (or social classes) and a greater division between the "haves" and "have-nots." Of course this will ultimately lead to social unrest and eventual societal collapse. It's a leap I know, but just a small one that is very well within the realm of possibilities.

Not many things can change society's view on materialism. Government regulation may help things a little but you can't create regulations that change people's beliefs. Government regulation would only be a means to delay the inevitable chaos and societal collapse. Only a significant world event such as a natural disaster or another global war would likely lead to a decrease in our materialist mindset. It's sad to say it, but if our environment were to suddenly change because of something like this, people's idea of what they believe is a necessity in life would instantly change as well.

Ok, but Is This Really a Problem?

Increasing materialism is not sustainable in the long run. For one, as materialism increases, there is an ever increasing demand for the use of natural resources and labor. As an individual's desire to accumulate larger amounts of bigger and better things, the strain on our environment and thus our resources increases. This makes sustainable prosperity harder and harder to achieve as we move forward into the future. Society may adapt to changes in our resource reserves, however, it becomes more difficult to do so as we become more and more dependent on our technology.

For example, it's been proven to be very difficult to wean ourselves off of fossil fuels because our entire society and infrastructure has been built around the internal combustion engine as well as plastics derived from petroleum. The longer we wait to make a switch to using renewable resources, the harder it will become. The same logic can be applied to everything else in our lives, especially things dependent on essential non-renewable resources. Perhaps a major paradigm shift combined with heavy government regulation could help. But perhaps not.

The only way I think that we could have a sustainable society is if we stop technological change. Obviously, this will never happen so the only conclusion is that society as we know cannot be sustained forever—it's just not sustainable. Another way of putting it is that infinite growth in a world with finite resources is never sustainable in the long run. If you've got an alternate viewpoint, I'd love to hear it.

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

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