About Me

Ithaca, New York
MWF, now officially 42, loves long walks on the beach and laughing with friends ... oh, wait. By day, I'm a mid-level university administrator reluctant to be more specific on a public forum. Nights and weekends, though, I'm a homebody with strong nerdist leanings. I'm never happier than when I'm chatting around the fire, playing board games, cooking up some pasta, and/or road-tripping with my family and friends. I studied psychology and then labor economics in school, and I work in higher education. From time to time I get smug, obsessive, or just plain boring about some combination of these topics, especially when inequality, parenting, or consumer culture are involved. You have been warned.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

#73 - Affluenza

Behind on blogging again. How is it that I have less time to write since I've been unemployed, rather than more? (Actually, I know how it is, but that's another topic.)

Anyway, #73 was Affluenza: The All-Consuming Epidemic, by John DeGraff (Berrett-Koehler, 2001). In short, this one was a bit dated after 8 years, but nonetheless offers some interesting ideas, and is far more substantive than co-author David Wann's more recent Simple Prosperity. Based on a 1997 TV documentary of the same name, Affluenza posits that the U.S. is suffering from an epidemic of overconsumption, which the authors dub "affluenza" -- defined specifically as "a painful, contagious, virally transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety, and waste resulting from the dogged pursuit of more." The book uses the metaphor of a disease to describe the symptoms by which this condition manifests: swollen expectations, chronic congestion (e.g., traffic and storage spaces), fractured families, shopping fever, a rash of bankruptcies, and an ache for meaning. It then goes on to discuss the negative impact on our economy and environment, offer a self-diagnosis test so readers can see how badly they suffer from the alleged disease, and some treatment recommendations.

As suggested above, the concept doesn't seem quite as new anymore, in our post-9/11, post-simplicity movement world ... but then again, the current recession makes the ideas just as relevant, and perhaps it's books and programs like this one that helped bring the concepts of overconsumption and simplicity into the mainstream. (The book's recently been revised and a second edition reprinted, and I'd be mildly curious to see how this one differs from the original.) It's also a thought-provoking, if slightly corny, introduction to the topic for folks who haven't really questioned our cultural norms around affluence and conspicuous consumption before.

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