Conspicuous consumption has been with us quite a while. Humans like to “compete with the Joneses” by acquiring ever more goods than others they observe in society. But, with the recession and other societal pressures, people are slowing their spending (buying smaller houses, fewer cars). They also may be replacing their “conspicuous consumption” to some degree with “conspicuous creation”.
In other words, as opposed to competing with your neighbor based on a bunch of physical stuff, you can partially compete with virtual stuff (blogs, picture, videos, etc) shared online.
Good magazine has some good comments on the topic:
Throughout the last century conspicuous consumption meant buying cars, boats, larger houses, jewelry, art, and meals in restaurants. Keeping up with the Joneses required a lot of energy—and produced a lot of carbon and waste. More and bigger became our mantras. The average size of the American home leapt from 983 square feet in 1950 to 2,080 in 1990, increasing roughly 20 percent per decade. The number of cars per U.S. family saw a similar 14 percent growth rate per decade over the same period.
Just over 100 years since Veblen introduced the idea of conspicuous consumption, however, the practice appears to be losing steam. The rates of growth in average home size and family car ownership in the United States have both roughly halved since 1990. The square footage of an average U.S. home peaked in the second quarter of 2008, and is now back down to pre-2004 levels. The average number of cars per household is following a similar trajectory.
Are people becoming less conspicuous? Hardly. Is this a response to the recession? Partially. A conscious effort to curb the environmental crisis? Unlikely. It may be, in fact, that houses, cars, clothes, and other traditional means of distinguishing oneself are no longer the best tools for the job.
Professional thirtysomethings spend more time polishing their LinkedIn pages than pruning their front lawns. Prospective singles—men and women—focus more on tweaking their Match.com or eHarmony profiles than they do searching for that perfect convertible.