Adam Cowart has just published his eleventh post in our Emerging Fellows program, raising assumptions on the future of economy. The views expressed are those of the author and not necessarily those of the APF or its other members.
To the best of my recollection, when I was young my family only went to the pumpkin patch once. Every year we would beg to go. Every year my father would say “no” and explain to us the minute difference between the cost of a store bought pumpkin, and the cost of going to the pumpkin patch. Plus transportation costs. Compound interest and so forth… Of course, he preferred a third option: no pumpkin at all.
But what, exactly, is the allure of a pumpkin patch? It’s usually raining, cold. Certainly, from an economic perspective, grabbing one at the grocery store is cheaper, more efficient, probably better for the environment. In “Emotionally Durable Design”, Jonathan Chapman turns to social psychologist Erich Fromm, invoking the consumption relationship between incorporation and possession in ritual acts of cannibalism. To consume another human being, or animal, is to acquire their strength or courage, or whatever power they possess that is deemed accessible to acquisition.
This insight points to the evolution of an ongoing trend: A psychological and consumer shift away from “having” into “being”, one in which we focus our economic energies on immersing ourselves in the experience, a cannibalistic form of possession.
“Authentic experiences” are a case in point. These experiences at their most pure are serendipitous, original, unmediated, and have a profound, lasting impact on individuals. Here, perhaps, is a clue as to the future of the real economy: where ecological and cultural resources are extracted experientially versus in a coordinated process meant to maximize efficiency.
Think of the global economy shifting to an unwieldy version of what we might call “The Pumpkin Patch Scenario”, the expansion of unmediated, or low-mediated, cultural exploitation. Foraging would be an example of this; much like those who set out “off the beaten path” to find spaces uncolonized by tourism. The “being” of the experience supersedes the “having” of the object. The economic transaction is dependent upon the experience of the pumpkin patch and not on the pumpkin itself.
Why might this shift be happening? Perhaps because of the over-commercialization and manipulation of emotion, the synthetic and scripted quality of our products and experiences. As design increasingly mediates our experiences we must wander further afield to escape into the unrefined. All of this will have dire consequences on the climate, as our consumption patterns become more emergent and esoteric.
While this turn from “having” to “being” is well underway, whether it manifests in a virtual “being” or a “real” being is yet to be determined. The most likely scenario is a mixing of the two, in which we chose to have a virtual and physical presence. An exaggerated version of today. One in which the more deeply we immerse ourselves in the synthetic, the more invasively we mine the authentic when we come up for air.
But a more radical shift could be under way. One in which citizens choose to primarily inhabit either the synthetic or the authentic. In the future, our economy could be divided along wholly new lines: instead of developed and developing economies, we could have those who inhabit the virtual economy, those who inhabit the physical economy, and those who cross between. What would an economy look like where consumers are located by their chosen, or imposed, economically situated “being-ness”, versus traditional socio-economic boundaries?
© Adam Cowart 2018