Today's Reading

FOREWORD

For centuries, the global GDP was essentially zero. While commercial exchanges were indeed happening between buyers and sellers over this great span of time, the scale at which they occurred was minimal and the nature of these exchanges was largely utilitarian. People bought goods for practical purposes to get functional jobs done. And so was the case until the 16th century when Queen Elizabeth I had a grand idea that she would use consumption as a means of power (McCracken, 1990). This era is widely considered the golden age of England—a time of great expansion in the arts, education, and science in the country. Under her rule, Elizabethan England flourished, but not for everyone.

Her thinking was straightforward: Royalty would have everything, nobility would have less, and peasants would have nothing. Through this lens, nobility would be compelled to consume to maintain their status in the social hierarchy and proximity to royalty, while peasants would look up the social ladder knowing that their position in society was demarcated by their ability—or lack thereof—to consume. And such was the case until the early 18th century when Northern Europe experienced an increase in economic activity thanks to early manufacturing. Businesses in the region made a bit more money, so they paid their employees a bit more money, and these employees went out and spent more. As a result, more companies made a bit more money, and they too paid their employees more money, and they then went out and spent more. This economic activity catalyzed a cycle of consumption, which exploded at the end of the century with the advent of the Industrial Revolution. More companies hired more people to make more products that made more money for said companies by selling more things to more people. More, more. More.

So, what's the point of this history lesson? From its modern conception, consumption had almost nothing to do with functional value propositions and feature benefits. Instead, consumption was driven by social and psychological impulses—and so it is the same today. The brands and branded products we consume today have less to do with what they are and more to do with who we are.

But who are we? We are the identities to which we subscribe our selfhood. We are the narratives that we negotiate and construct with each other through our social interactions (Avery, 2010) that help us make sense of the world and how we fit into it. The multihyphenated nature of our identity makes for a complex, and often contradictory, intersectionality that constitutes who we are, demarcates the place(s) we occupy in the world, and aids our ability to find our people. As social animals, this is invaluable.

Not only does identity demarcate who we are, it also frames how we see the world. That is to say, because of who we are, we hold a certain set of beliefs and ideologies that make up our communal view of reality. For instance, is a cow leather, is it a deity, or is it dinner? Well, it's all three, depending on who you are and how you see the world. Things aren't the way they are, they are the way that we are, based on how we make meaning through the truths we hold about the world and the subsequent stories we tell ourselves about it.

We are who we are, and we translate the world accordingly—which is manifested in the ways by which we navigate the world. Our shared way of life—the artifacts we don, the behaviors we take on, and the language we use—are outward expressions of inward beliefs. And these expressions are communicated and socialized through shared works like literature, film, music, art, and branded products. The alchemy of these elements (identity, beliefs, shared way of life, and shared works) make up our culture, the system of conventions and expectations that delineates who we are and what people like us do.
...

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Today's Reading

FOREWORD

For centuries, the global GDP was essentially zero. While commercial exchanges were indeed happening between buyers and sellers over this great span of time, the scale at which they occurred was minimal and the nature of these exchanges was largely utilitarian. People bought goods for practical purposes to get functional jobs done. And so was the case until the 16th century when Queen Elizabeth I had a grand idea that she would use consumption as a means of power (McCracken, 1990). This era is widely considered the golden age of England—a time of great expansion in the arts, education, and science in the country. Under her rule, Elizabethan England flourished, but not for everyone.

Her thinking was straightforward: Royalty would have everything, nobility would have less, and peasants would have nothing. Through this lens, nobility would be compelled to consume to maintain their status in the social hierarchy and proximity to royalty, while peasants would look up the social ladder knowing that their position in society was demarcated by their ability—or lack thereof—to consume. And such was the case until the early 18th century when Northern Europe experienced an increase in economic activity thanks to early manufacturing. Businesses in the region made a bit more money, so they paid their employees a bit more money, and these employees went out and spent more. As a result, more companies made a bit more money, and they too paid their employees more money, and they then went out and spent more. This economic activity catalyzed a cycle of consumption, which exploded at the end of the century with the advent of the Industrial Revolution. More companies hired more people to make more products that made more money for said companies by selling more things to more people. More, more. More.

So, what's the point of this history lesson? From its modern conception, consumption had almost nothing to do with functional value propositions and feature benefits. Instead, consumption was driven by social and psychological impulses—and so it is the same today. The brands and branded products we consume today have less to do with what they are and more to do with who we are.

But who are we? We are the identities to which we subscribe our selfhood. We are the narratives that we negotiate and construct with each other through our social interactions (Avery, 2010) that help us make sense of the world and how we fit into it. The multihyphenated nature of our identity makes for a complex, and often contradictory, intersectionality that constitutes who we are, demarcates the place(s) we occupy in the world, and aids our ability to find our people. As social animals, this is invaluable.

Not only does identity demarcate who we are, it also frames how we see the world. That is to say, because of who we are, we hold a certain set of beliefs and ideologies that make up our communal view of reality. For instance, is a cow leather, is it a deity, or is it dinner? Well, it's all three, depending on who you are and how you see the world. Things aren't the way they are, they are the way that we are, based on how we make meaning through the truths we hold about the world and the subsequent stories we tell ourselves about it.

We are who we are, and we translate the world accordingly—which is manifested in the ways by which we navigate the world. Our shared way of life—the artifacts we don, the behaviors we take on, and the language we use—are outward expressions of inward beliefs. And these expressions are communicated and socialized through shared works like literature, film, music, art, and branded products. The alchemy of these elements (identity, beliefs, shared way of life, and shared works) make up our culture, the system of conventions and expectations that delineates who we are and what people like us do.
...

Join the Library's Online Book Clubs and start receiving chapters from popular books in your daily email. Every day, Monday through Friday, we'll send you a portion of a book that takes only five minutes to read. Each Monday we begin a new book and by Friday you will have the chance to read 2 or 3 chapters, enough to know if it's a book you want to finish. You can read a wide variety of books including fiction, nonfiction, romance, business, teen and mystery books. Just give us your email address and five minutes a day, and we'll give you an exciting world of reading.

What our readers think...