Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Non-Creative Consuming

It occurred to me today that it would be good for the world if I drew attention to the distinction between creative and non-creative consuming.

Trends are powerful and useful things. They allow for the focus of energy and the development of aesthetic and stylistic behaviors into rich languages. Art Nouveau, punk rock, classical and futuristic are all examples of this. (Within each of those are, of course, different periods and sub-genres. Essentially, further refinements of technical stylistic languages.) The participation of many individuals, both "designers" and "appreciators" allows for each to evolve into a detailed and shared language.

Taken too far, or adopted too broadly, trends create homogeneity that destroys the richness of experience formed by the existence of differentiated styles.

One of the ways that brand and product design people talk about form languages is in the way they help each of us differentiate ourselves, to construct our identities and form "tribes" of people that share similar values and aesthetic appreciations.

Morality requires the ability to act immorally. If you are incapable of killing you cannot claim to have acted morally by not doing so. Being a moral person is having the option and acting on reason and principle. Having "style" (consuming creatively) works in a similar way and requires choice. If all you do is run out and buy the same thing as everyone else you don't have style, no matter what you purchased. Popularity, the quest for, it and its worship, have become such cultural obsessions that the range of acceptable or desired preferences is narrowing and the world is a less interesting place as a result.

It has become terribly cliche to talk about the "Disnification" of New York, so lets talk about it another way. Think about all the cool neighborhoods that have served as sets for television shows and motion pictures. They're disappearing, more as a result of non-creative consuming than by the force of acts of large companies. Companies aren't to blame, non-creative consumers are.

Massive participation in mindless trend following and style-stalinism have reduced the amount of creativity and fun in the world. The Sherman Foundation Lobbies for both so we have decided to start labeling particular products, brands and people as examples of non-creative consuming.

People that engage in non-creative consumption are committing a form of cultural vandalism and should be identified. Those of us, more aesthetically sensitive and sophisticated have a right and responsibility to single out and humiliate the girls walking around Manhattan in tacky, matching sweatsuit ensembles as much as we have an obligation to lash out at people who don't curb their dogs. (They're often one and the same.)

New York IS cleaner and safer than it was in many decades past, and that's a good thing. It's when people default to autopilot and go Starbucks every time they want coffee, and as a result the greasy diners, European cafes and hip little neighborhood coffee shops disappear that's the problem. Which brings me to identifying the first brand to be labelled as non-creative consuming: Starbucks.

In future installments I will propose a loose criteria for and discuss the negative economic impacts of non-creative consuming.

The Sherman Foundation doesn't close a door without opening a window. Here is a link to The Delocator. It will help you find coffee options other than Starbucks.

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