Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Status Anxiety

I have read/heard a lot recently about status anxiety without actually getting around to the book of the same name.  To my understanding this can be summarised as the innate unhappiness and insecurity that goes with the pursuit of modern notions of success symbolised in things like a big car, or a big impressive sounding job title.  Maybe its a coincidence or I'm noticing it more but one article or book on the subject seems to lead to the next.  This ranges from recent best sellers like 'Affluenza,' back into the history the human mind like Fromm and Jung.  

I think it was on Faris' blog that it was discussed that the point of communication is to make people a little happier than they were before.  This is also not so far from the ideas in 'The Experience Economy' that say that we have now gone beyond commodities, goods and services to a point where smart companies create differentiation by creating scintillating theatrical experiences out of the shops, staff and other components that make up their business.  But as symptoms such as status anxiety would suggest happiness is not as boundless as capitalism. If you buy into the research presented in 'Affluenza' you see that the more westernised and the more commercialised the country the more likely it is that the people who live there will live a life disconnected from a real authentic joy of life.  Markets like China are emotionally on the crest of a wave on a promise of the riches of capitalism but are just a few points on the curve away from the US or the UK towards this trend.  In other words its not working.  The saying goes that if it ain't broke then don't fix it and anyone with a different POV about the best way to organise a way of life would struggle (even harder) to get any traction whatsoever for a different approach if this was not true.  

So while we are suffering a slow decline in our mental health and well being, and the financial markets that underpin it are suffering a more chaotic form of madness perhaps it is time for some calm reflection.  One approach to treating physiological problems is to treat the illness as a malfunction or an alien intrusion that needs to be forcefully removed in order to restore health.  Perhaps a more enlightened way to look at it is to see the behaviour as a useful alarm bell that reveal clues about how to redress the more fundamental problem that lies underneath.  

There is currently a growing commitment from many different types of business to change the way they do things in order to make them more sustainable in the future.  But i can't help but think that the starting point should not be exactly the same product aimed at the same person for the same reason, but now made with magical new techniques that mean that the process is not harmful.  If you were starting from scratch you would not end up there. Instead you would start with some more basic question like... what can we make/do/produce that will make people the most happy which, if all this thinking is right, would lead to entirely different outcomes.  Cracking what these are would be the next industrial revolution (by a different name.)