By Eric Song and Daniel Shin
As the world wakes up, ready for another day of work, the “Rich Kids of Instagram” (using an account publicly managed by adolescents around the world) post pictures from yet another night of opulent partying and drinking—yes, they are just kids but their parents can bail them out of just about anything.
While half of the developing world barely manages to scrape together two dimes for lunch, the “Rich Kids of Instagram” enjoy a casual private buffet in a restaurant overlooking the beaches. On the tables, there are signs titled “save water, drink champagne.”
These kids seem to have it all: money, power, and publicity. But beneath the countless Chanel bags and Ferraris is a festering void that reeks of loneliness and desperation—symptoms of the materialism that runs rampant in contemporary society. These young men and women have buried themselves, sometimes literally, in their craze for material goods, and several consequences of this obsession are slowly but surely presenting themselves.
Johannes Malkmes, author of “American Consumer Culture and Its Society,” defines materialism as a “preoccupation with or emphasis on material objects, comforts, and considerations.” Whether it be for bags, shoes, or any other goods, having materialistic desires will increase the time one spends fawning over tangible goods—meaning one will have less opportunities to interact with real people and with things of real value. In fact, a six-year study published by the Journal of Consumer Research followed 2,500 people and found a cyclic relationship between materialism and isolation. Because frenzied consumers indulge themselves in material goods, they leave little to no time for actual social interactions. This self-paved loneliness in turn creates an unfulfilled desire for attachment, which is why they, once again, turn to material possessions.
Materialism does not only encourage social isolation; it also makes happiness unattainable. Most materialists are controlled by an external locus; they can only attain happiness when they have more than others. If I own a Ferrari and you own two, I will be perpetually unhappy until I top your count— which in turn will make you unhappy. There is no cap on this race for more, and we must question whether it is right to continue to let happiness become a zero-sum game.
Unlike other global issues, materialism at its core is an intangible concept—and hence, combating it requires a shift in societal values. When one’s internal world is deprived, it is only natural to look to the external for happiness—and that’s where the cars and watches come in. Materialism fills a void of insecurity—and it’s up to society to either prevent such a void from occurring in the first place or ensure that it is filled with healthier alternatives. Devoting time for work, building relationships, or playing sports are just a few of the many alternative ways one could attain happiness without whipping out the credit card.