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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).

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.


Val Karas from Canada on October 01, 2016:

Now that I am re-thinking about the whole matter, maybe I should even disqualify myself from making my position public - being my own version of an individualist, somewhat indifferent to collectivistic concerns about the welfare of the world.

In my view a society is merely a bunch of different individuals sharing a language, territory, laws, economic conditions etc. I am not prone to generalizing, so - if you show me an extreme of a materialist, I'll show you an extreme of a spiritual dude, and together we can find many of those in between. It's for those who care to make statistics that a society appears as leaning more to one side or another. And to me it doesn't even matter, because I was raised in a communist regime, served their army, made all oaths that I was required - and yet I was deeply spiritual, sovereign and free in my mind.

I don't really care if my next door neighbor is materialistically oriented with his kids texting each other over the dinner table, or he is a devoted meditator and self-advancing intellectual adventurist of my kind.

To me the world throughout the history looks pretty much the same, and those cruelties of Attila the Hun are not any different than those of ISIS - and a Tibetan monk may be staring at me right from my mirror while I am shaving.

I see individual variety, I don't categorize people. If I was sitting across you, I would only see you, your expressions of your intimate reality which is different than anyone else's in the world. I would truly be present just with you, discovering of you as much as you would let me, but not categorizing you as "one of those".

You would not "remind me" of anyone else.

Living in society is a necessity, mental, economical, and otherwise, but that doesn't mean that at any moment I would clump people together just because both of them are seemingly doing the same. As that Latin saying goes: "Si duo faciunt idem - non est idem". ("If two do the same - is not the same").

So, here are the reasons why I shouldn't have mentioned any of my positions in response to your hub - which was, by the way, written superbly, and using a criterion of collectivistic concerns about "what is going on", you said everything right.

Well, I guess, it's all just a little matter of different perspectives. In some of my hubs I satirize the world's lack of this or that quality, but I am not losing my sleep over it, and I am not a normative dude telling others what kind of world would be more to my taste. As far as I care, let everybody be.

And in the relativity of everything, these are the best times ever for me, the lover of freedom, as no one is imposing on me what to believe and no one stands in my way of making the life as I want it - whereas these could look like the worst times ever to someone else, for his or her reasons. Thanks to technology I can listen at my home David Garrett's violin in Tomaso Albononi's "Adagio", and I couldn't care less if my neighbor prefers rap music. None of my business, like so many other things over which I have absolutely no control. It's great chatting with you. Thank you for the company.

Christopher Wanamaker (author) from Arizona on October 01, 2016:

Hello ValKaras,

I do agree with your point about there being a historic variety of mind styles and life styles. Surely the spectrum of possibilities for attitudes and desires has not changed however I do believe that there is clearly shift away from one end towards the other.

I think you have made a few good points however I disagree that these are the best times ever. Mentalities can and do change over time. For example take the studies that have looked into the changes with generations. Certainly the attitudes and desires of those considered to be Millennials are far different than the Baby Boomers. In one recent article published it said "Millennials are “the worst,” “lazy,” and “screwed.” They’re “selfish and entitled,” “crybabies,” and obsessed with themselves and taking ‘selfies.’" This sentiment is touted in many news articles and journals. Keep in mind that these are generalities and there will be exceptions to the rule as well as local biases associated with a variety socio-economic factors. The point is that when look at changes across the generations you will find a shift toward materialism and a decrease in spiritual values, etc which is a product of a modernizes world with higher incomes and low cost products. In fact this paradigm shift across the generations has spurred a new field of therapists who specialize in the treatment of "the unique mental problems of millennials" Reference here: http://www.marketwatch.com/story/these-days-millen...

One funny thing here is that by my birthdate I would be considered a Millennial myself. However I would most certainly identify myself as a late baby boomer or a Gen X person. This is based on self assessments as well as judgments and criticisms from individuals in my life. Furthermore, many of the friends I knew in high school would definitely fall into the millennial category described above. I've seen the differences in their lives as compared to the older generation of my coworkers and those of my parents time. To me this is prime evidence to support the discourse that I've presented in my article above.

With all this said though, I do believe that many things are getting better. It's not all doom and gloom. Advances in medical science, environmental science, and engineering are all helping to improve the quality of life for people around the globe. There's never been a time in history quite like this.

Whatever your position I believe it's worth thinking about how there is been a shift in values over time. This simple realization can have profound effects on the way we view the world and the people around us.

Thanks for reading and I appreciate your opinions.

Val Karas from Canada on September 30, 2016:

I think that nothing has essentially changed about our preferences in life, it's only happening on a larger scale and with new material toys.

Historically speaking, there has always been this same variety of mind styles and life styles - I mean many spiritually minded folks, and many materialistically minded ones. As always, you don't hear much about those spiritual ones, as they are not parading around like those other ones, they are "quiet human specimens".

Media are not showing those millions and millions of decent families with high values, so everyone is just perceiving that more "bombastic" aspects of social life and forming somewhat pessimistic worldview. There is an equal chance of a next terrorist attack as it was in the past for a nobleman or a king to start a war out of an ego issue.

The variety of mentalities doesn't really change much across the board, the same players are playing the same dignifying or crappy games as always.

Being an optimist, I think these are the best times ever, and it's our individual choice if we want to turn a blind eye on those materialistically minded folks, just as they are not noticing those ones with values and spiritual self-advancement in their priorities.

Well, that's at least the way I see it - as I am getting myself ready for another evening meditation.

Robert Morgan from Hutchinson Island, FL - Myrtle Beach, SC - Gilbert AZ on July 29, 2015:

Great hub. Thanks for taking the time to do all this research. Have a great day.

Jay C OBrien from Houston, TX USA on July 05, 2015:

To the materialist, all we have to do is control our population. Can you say vasectomy?

You wrote: "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."

Refer to the Association for Research and Enlightenment (ARE), the Edgar Cayce Foundation. I have found the research to lead to the spiritual. Also see hub, "My Telepathic Experiences."

Andrew Smith from Richmond, VA on October 20, 2014:

Absolutely understood. Like I said, it's definitely a double edged sword. I do think that the pros far, far outweigh the cons with quality of life. I, for one, would not enjoy a shorter lifespan (eg, likelihood of dying from a staph infection from a paper cut) that goes along with living a century ago, or not being able to visit other towns, etc.

Christopher Wanamaker (author) from Arizona on October 20, 2014:

Goatfury - I appreciate your comments. I just wonder how much virtual relationships can be a surrogate for physical relationships. There are certainly pros and cons to this. Another thing id like to point out is that people seem to be replacing family with virtual friends. They'll spend hours in video games and forums with their virtual friends at th expenseof family time. Certainly many things to think about here. As always, thanks for reading.

Andrew Smith from Richmond, VA on October 20, 2014:

Well... yes and no. Technology is a double edged sword in terms of human interactions. As you pointed out, people are spending more and more time with their tech and less time with other humans in person, but on the other hand, I have cultivated many, many more friendships (both online and in person) via the internet than I ever could have in person. I actually really enjoy thinking about this stuff, and I've been pretty focused on it for the last five or six years, thinking about little else!

Christopher Wanamaker (author) from Arizona on October 18, 2014:

Someonewhoknows - agreed! Change is happening so fast and we appear to be headed for chaos. Thanks for reading!

someonewhoknows from south and west of canada,north of ohio on October 18, 2014:

The future is not set in stone but, the prevailing trend does not look good.

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