The age of “neophilia”

A new book cites a sociologist who says we are in a world of “neophilia”:

We are addicted to new products, say Botsman and Rogers. They cite Colin Campbell, a professor of sociology at the University of York, for the diagnosis – that we suffer from ‘neophilia,’ where novelty seeking is the new phenomenon. “Pre-modern societies tend to be suspicious of the novel. It is a feature of modernity that we are addicted to novelty.”

As a stark example of how obsolescence was built into our minds, the book traces the tale of how GM’s Alfred Sloan launched Chevrolet by convincing his team ‘to restyle the body covering of what was essentially a nine-year-old piece of technology under the banner of product innovation.’ The Chevrolet was a remarkable success and the idea of ‘perceived obsolescence’ and ‘change for change’s sake’ was born, the authors note.

“GM went so far as to define its strategy as choreographed cosmetic ‘upgrades’ to ‘Keep the Consumer Dissatisfied.’ In 1929, Charles Kettering, director of research for Sloan, wrote an article declaring, ‘The key to economic prosperity is the organised creation of dissatisfaction…’”

Of course, this obsolescence means more products are sold. It would be intriguing to be privy to some of the conversations corporations must have about particular products: “do we make it a little cheaper so the consumer has to buy a similar product sooner or do we aim for a higher reliability rating in Consumer Reports“? (Do the reliability rankings in Consumer Reports necessarily correspond with the longevity of products or how long consumers hold on to them?)

The contrast between the pre-modern and modern world is interesting: we moderns are skeptical of tradition and conservatism. Does this mean “neophilia” is a product of the Enlightenment?

39% of Americans now say marriage is obsolete

More data suggests that definitions of family continue to change in the United States. According to research from Pew, about 39% of Americans now say marriage is obsolete:

About 29 percent of children under 18 now live with a parent or parents who are unwed or no longer married, a fivefold increase from 1960, according to the Pew report being released Thursday. Broken down further, about 15 percent have parents who are divorced or separated and 14 percent who were never married. Within those two groups, a sizable chunk — 6 percent — have parents who are live-in couples who opted to raise kids together without getting married.

Indeed, about 39 percent of Americans said marriage was becoming obsolete. And that sentiment follows U.S. census data released in September that showed marriages hit an all-time low of 52 percent for adults 18 and over.

In 1978, just 28 percent believed marriage was becoming obsolete.

What exactly people mean when they say marriage is “obsolete” is a little unclear: do they mean it is a dying institution? Do they mean that they won’t pursue marriage? Do they mean it is not a desirable goal?

But the same story also tries to suggest that it is not all bad news for marriage:

Still, the study indicates that marriage isn’t going to disappear anytime soon. Despite a growing view that marriage may not be necessary, 67 percent of Americans were upbeat about the future of marriage and family. That’s higher than their optimism for the nation’s educational system (50 percent), economy (46 percent) or its morals and ethics (41 percent).

And about half of all currently unmarried adults, 46 percent, say they want to get married. Among those unmarried who are living with a partner, the share rises to 64 percent.

The first set of comparisons of optimism about marriage and family versus other objects seems to be somewhat irrelevant. But there are still people who wish to be married – and I would be curious to know if there are traits or characteristics that mark this group.

What will be really interesting to see is how the current generation of kids, that 29% of kids under 18 who live with unwed or unmarried parents, responds to marriage when they are of age. There is nothing that says marriage rates have to decline over time just as there was never any guarantee that marriage would continue to be seen as a desirable life outcome for a majority of Americans.

As Christians, and Evangelicals in particular, have tended to promote “family values” and push the idea of marriage as a good for individuals, the church, and society, how will they respond to this data? Looking toward the future, will younger Evangelicals still desire marriage in the same way as previous generations or will the trends in broader society shape their behaviors?