Don’t Consume. Be.

Grant McCracken is a whip smart cultural anthropologist working in the modern day consumer arena.
Here’s how he sees us behaving during times of economic tumult:

Roughly speaking, consumers have two modalities: surging and dwelling.
In the surging modality, consumers have momentum. We have a vivid sense of forward motion. Life is getting better. Each purchase is an improvement onthe last one. Clothes change with fashion. The material world teems with new features, new things, new opportunities, new excitement. We look ahead constantly, keeping one foot in the present, putting one in the future. The good life is America is always a better life. That’s the fundamental promise of the consumer society.
In the dwelling modality, the consumer is not forward looking, but concentrated on the here and now. Now most of life’s pleasure comes from counting one’s blessings. This is a dwelling modality, because the individual is no longer in transit, racing towards a better tomorrow. Now the consumer is focused on what is good about what one has. The consumer stops anticipating and starts savoring.

Listen to the poetry of that. No one has made the downturn seem like a more pleasant place to be.

About David Burn

Co-founder and editor of AdPulp. I wrote my first ad for a political candidate when I was 17 years old. She won her race and I felt the seductive power of advertising for the first time. I worked for seven agencies in five states before launching my own practice in 2009. Today, I am head of brand strategy and creative at Bonehook in Portland, Oregon.


  1. That is an amazingly observant quote. Smart post!

  2. Nothing outside of us in the moment we are in, now, can give us happiness and satisfaction. I agree with Grant McCracken’s observation.
    The consumer mentality perpetuates itself because we believe that these things we buy will actually bring us lasting satisfaction. They don’t. And so people just want to consume more and more, to fill that hole. It’s a vicious circle. And by the way, the same cycle is rampant in interpersonal relationships
    The current flawed view of “the American Dream” combined with appalling amounts of hubris and nihilism has critically wounded our economy and is destroying the Earth.
    And yes, I can understand my thoughts sound hypocritical coming from someone who creates ads for a living.

  3. Mark,
    Because we create ads for a living, we confront the reality of our work. We are part of our nation’s throwaway consumer culture, advocates for it. It is a stunning thing to face.
    After I get over the shock that such introspection brings, I do manage to have hope. I think of all the positive things that can be done to move the agency business and business in general in the right direction.

  4. David,
    Another thing that perpetuates throwaway consumer culture is that people haven’t bought into better dreams to live their life by. One reason why i enjoy this business is because it’s training in how to create compelling myths that inspire. I’ve actually had many opportunities to put these skills to use in very positive ways outside the realm of advertising.
    On top of that, I think ad creatives do generate positive change when they do good work for a brand with a positive intention. Many brands indeed do have a positive intention along with the desire to make a buck. (Nothing wrong with that, in and of itself.)
    And of course, there’s always the opportunity to to pro-bono work.

  5. I wonder if “Cultural Anthropologist” is a job that’ll last through the recession.
    My guess is no. My guess is “Cultural Anthropology” will be alot more akin to “Freelance Planning” than anything else.