How will American culture change since Millennials want to buy the newest smartphones rather than cars and houses?

Here is part of a fascinating article about what Millennials want to purchase and how this differs from the consumption of previous generations:

Needless to say, the Great Recession is responsible for some of the decline. But it’s highly possible that a perfect storm of economic and demographic factors—from high gas prices, to re-­urbanization, to stagnating wages, to new technologies enabling a different kind of consumption—has fundamentally changed the game for Millennials. The largest generation in American history might never spend as lavishly as its parents did—nor on the same things. Since the end of World War II, new cars and suburban houses have powered the world’s largest economy and propelled our most impressive recoveries. Millennials may have lost interest in both…Subaru’s publicist Doug O’Reilly told us, “The Millennial wants to tell people not just ‘I’ve made it,’ but also ‘I’m a tech person.’?” Smartphones compete against cars for young people’s big-ticket dollars, since the cost of a good phone and data plan can exceed $1,000 a year. But they also provide some of the same psychic benefits—opening new vistas and carrying us far from the physical space in which we reside. “You no longer need to feel connected to your friends with a car when you have this technology that’s so ubiquitous, it transcends time and space,” Connelly said.

In other words, mobile technology has empowered more than just car-sharing. It has empowered friendships that can be maintained from a distance. The upshot could be a continuing shift from automobiles to mobile technology, and a big reduction in spending…

In some respects, Millennials’ residential aspirations appear to be changing just as significantly as their driving habits—indeed, the two may be related. The old cul-de-sacs of Revolutionary Road and Desperate Housewives have fallen out of favor with Generation Y. Rising instead are both city centers and what some developers call “urban light”—denser suburbs that revolve around a walkable town center. “People are very eager to create a life that blends the best features of the American suburb—schools still being the primary, although not the only, draw—and urbanity,” says Adam Ducker, a managing director at the real-estate consultancy RCLCO. These are places like Culver City, California, and Evanston, Illinois, where residents can stroll among shops and restaurants or hop on public transportation. Such small cities and town centers lend themselves to tighter, smaller housing developments, whether apartments in the middle of town, or small houses a five-minute drive away. An RCLCO survey from 2007 found that 43 percent of Gen?Yers would prefer to live in a close-in suburb, where both the houses and the need for a car are smaller.

This article is primarily about the economic impacts of these shifting patterns but I think there is another important side to this: how does this affect American culture? A few ideas…

1. What makes up the American Dream will likely shift. We have gone almost 100 years with this combination: a house of one’s own and a car (or multiple cars in recent decades). The content of this dream will change and the pace to which people pursue it. Newest additions to the Dream: can I get a smartphone with an unthrottled data plan? How about a living arrangement that is exciting in terms of having nearby cultural and social opportunities but doesn’t tie one down financially?

2. As fewer teenagers see getting a driver’s license as the same sort of initiation into adulthood and freedom as previous generations, perhaps we have a new marker of adulthood: getting the first smartphone (with at least texting capabilities and perhaps also data).

3. As I’ve discussed before, the possible new kinds of suburbia we might see in the coming decades would be a remarkable shift away from completely auto-dependent developments. This will lead to some interesting consequences for housing. New Urbanism may just explode in popularity (as long as such developments are reasonably priced).

4. The car is no longer an important status symbol but rather more like a tool that is used to get from Point A to Point B. Tools may have some fun features but the number one concern is that that they function consistently. In contrast, the phone (and what one can do with it) becomes a status symbol.

5. As we’ve seen in recent years, announcements of new technologies and smartphones will garner increasing levels of attention. Just look at what happens when we get close to an Apple announcement for the newer iPhone (or iPad). Cars and houses will have to fight even harder for your attention. How this changes the ratio and content of commercials will be interesting to watch.

6. When are we going to see television shows and movies that truly reflect plugged in and online worlds? We have plenty of examples where characters use these devices but precious few that show what it is like to consistently operate in the online and offline worlds. The movie Catfish comes to mind. While most online users won’t go to the lengths the characters do in this movie, at least it depicts people living out real relationships in the online sphere.

7. A growing push for cheaper, faster, perhaps even free Internet access everywhere. To be disconnected will be viewed as more and more undesirable.

8. Revamping existing housing stock will require some imagination and creativity in marketing, construction, and financing.

9. Building off Richard Florida’s ideas about the creative class, what happens when this group becomes too big and unwieldy and is no longer “select,” there are not enough places that meet their requirements (not everywhere can be Austin), and not enough jobs for people with their education and interests? Obviously, shifts can take place but these won’t necessarily be easy.

4 thoughts on “How will American culture change since Millennials want to buy the newest smartphones rather than cars and houses?

  1. Pingback: Response to economic crisis: Irish government cutting support of homeownership | Legally Sociable

  2. Pingback: American housing reacts to changes in family and household structures | Legally Sociable

  3. Pingback: Generation gap: younger Americans don’t want Baby Boomer’s heirlooms/stuff | Legally Sociable

  4. Pingback: Why Americans love suburbs #5: cars and driving | Legally Sociable

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