Nowadays supermarkets stock tens of thousands of different products. That creates a problem as companies have to work out which of those articles will become a hit and which simply will go unpurchased.

There is an entire industry devoted to determining which brand of goods is selected and placed in a shopping cart. An effort is made to discover if an item is a passing fad, and to predicting even micro fashions. Those trend watchers are on top of “now-ism,” the product that currently is “catching fire.”

One thing that has become apparent is the way consumers seek to flaunt their status by means of their tastes in product selection.

What is obvious to those consumer watchers is their sophistication. It has attained a status that is almost unbelievable. Anyone can note that consumption is partly about pleasure, something that perhaps tastes good or a product that feels soft.

Above all, however, “now-ism” is about showing off in this era, what economist Thorsten Veblen long ago called “conspicuous consumption.”

It is noteworthy that that approach has changed dramatically over time. Previously, it was about keeping up with the Joneses, having so much “stuff” that the neighbours will be impressed. That has been carried along to an extreme degree. Currently almost all middle-class neighbours have a washing machine, a large colour television set, a modern computer, and are on the Internet.

Over the last few years “now-ism” has become almost an obsessive mania. People try to advertise their trendiness by engaging in exotic tastes, for instance, by purchasing clothes from a German fashion house that reflects the sound of your voice. That is accomplished by a computer that turns one’s speech into a knitting fabric.

Possessions are no longer the only way to flaunt status. Instead the “now-ism” crowd boasts about the places visited, for example, in the jungles of Africa, and the things members have done, such as climbed up to the rim of a volcano, or skydiving.A luxury travel agency features hunting with eagles in Mongolia.

To reflect increasing concern about the world’s problems, numbers of goods are designed to cater to the “now-ism” group, something instantly recognizable – like a hybrid car.

One place sells shoes that are covered with oil from the Gulf oil disaster; a hotel in Vietnam has installed a cooking school for its guests featuring exotic recipes known only in the deep jungles of Vietnam. One – a website in the United States – prints a summary of your Facebook friends, that helps to demonstrate how popular you are.

The recession is forcing some to pay attention to price, but for those who aspire to parade their uniqueness, consumer spending has taken an absurd turn.

Some insist on showing off how wonderful they are, so their purchasing trends scream “status.”

Unfortunately, there is a market for status seekers, but one should hope that this will disappear as a new morality inevitably will take place.


Bruce Whitestone