Category: Lifestyle

Post-consumerism (or are why are people not buying things?)

One of the topics that has dominated the business news in India recently has been the spectacular decline in automobile sales. One of the reasons that our Finance Minister gave for this trend is that millennials are increasingly not buying cars. She received some flak on social media for this comment, but many also feel that she does indeed have a point.

A cursory read into the state of the US auto industry (one of the largest in the world) would show that this trend of declining sales has been visible for some time now. And many commentators are not hesitant in calling this a structural shift in the industry, driven by multiple factors, one of which is undoubtedly that people, especially so-called millennials, are indeed buying less of cars.

And this drop in consumption is not restricted to just automobiles. Real estate, apparel, music are just some of the other categories where people are moving away from asset ownership. This is a topic that I am interested in, and have been reading up on. Here are some of my personal observations:

People, especially the younger generation, but not necessarily restricted to them alone, are increasingly questioning the value in ownership of traditional ‘assets’ such as houses and cars. Some commentators believe that this is due, at least in some Western markets, to having experienced first-hand the troubles faced by their older generations in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis.

In addition, the rise of the ‘sharing’ economy has made it much easier for people to experience a similar lifestyle and benefits at a fraction of the cost of full ownership. This has led to consumers increasingly questioning the traditionally held concepts of value of asset ownership.

The rise and rise of digital and social media is also playing a role, in my opinion. I think we are beginning to see a reaction against the intrusion of digital into all aspects of our life. We are increasingly yearning for simplicity and a desire to reconnect, with each other and with nature. Witness the popularity of movements such as minimalism and personalities such as Marie Kondo with her message of decluttering.

The desire to reconnect with each other and with nature is leading to people valuing experiences. It is believed that since 1987 the share of consumer spending on live experiences and events relative to total U.S. consumer spending increased 70%. This can also be seen in the significant rise of Airbnb with its core concept of enabling authentic stays and experiences.

There is also a view that the younger generation are more concerned with the environment and in leading a more sustainable lifestyle, which again leads to questioning traditional consumption habits.

Is this still a fad, or the start of an irreversible trend? My opinion is that it’s the latter, but only time will tell.

The Future of How We Live

One of the topics that fascinates me is the way we are adapting our lives to respond to the changes wrought about (largely) by technological advancements. There is a generation growing up that are technology natives and who might not know of a life before social media, smartphones, video and music streaming, etc. We are already hearing about how, led by this generation, people are:

  • Purchasing less cars, preferring to use shared mobility services
  • Delaying (perhaps indefinitely?) the purchase of real estate for personal use, preferring to rent instead
  • Looking for interesting and fulfilling work to do, rather than a job
  • Preferring to spend on experiences, instead of assets (live music concerts, niche travel, etc.)
  • Exhibiting greater awareness of willingness to lead a more sustainable life

I am not sure if all of these are definite long-term trends or a short-term reaction to the present stimuli. I am also not sure if all of these hold true globally, or are specific to a country’s state of development and specific economic conditions.

I hope to read and learn more about these trends and be able to express some views over the next few weeks.

 

 

Imagination Could Save the World

It’s not often that one reads something that sparks multiple thoughts in one’s head, prompting one to dig deeper into each and come out with one’s own views on these topics. A recent article in the New Yorker by Ben Taub called ‘Imagination Could Save the World‘ is precisely one such piece.

I am not going to summarise the entire article here. Please do read the entire piece yourself, it will be well worth your time. But, I will, over a series of articles, aim to provide my thoughts on the topics raised by the author and the subject of his article, Jonathan Ledgard.

The first point I want to address is the question that appears to be driving Mr. Ledgard’s projects – “What if human greed could be harnessed as a kind of natural resource, and redirected to mitigate its own effects?”.

Greed is a complex topic. We are, typically, taught that being greedy is not good. However, we cannot deny that greed (or rather the desire for consumption) has come to be accepted as a part of our lives, at least in strongly capitalist economies (which is now most of the world). The reason for this is not too difficult to see. The more one desires stuff and consumer it, the more businesses need to make this stuff. The more businesses need to make stuff, the more they need to employ people (and resources). The more people are employed, the more money they can make, improve their standard of living, and, of course, consume more! I believe consumption has a vital role to play in redistributing wealth from the rich to the not-so-rich. And this has, no doubt, worked very well in the past and helped raise millions out of poverty across the world.

In addition, I believe greed (or desire) to be different, famous, successful, rich also helps drive innovation. I would argue that most of today’s large tech organisations that play such key roles in our daily lives might not have developed if not for this ‘greed’.

However, there is a fine line between ‘good greed’ and ‘bad greed’. And we have seen a few instances recently of this line getting crossed, leading to turmoil affecting a disproportionately large segment of the population (the dot-com bubble, real estate bubble).

I no not believe that greed, as a human emotion, is going to go away anytime soon. Sure, there are the beginnings of what one might call a reaction against rampant consumerism, but the majority of us are going to be driven, at some level, by this emotion. The key question that we have to ask, as Mr. Ledgard seems to be, is if we can channelise this greed to make our lives more equitable and sustainable.

Chaos on Indian Roads

Image of Indian roads at night
Image of Indian roads at night

The Indian government has recently significantly increased the fines levied for driving offences. It’s still early to judge the effectiveness of this, but there is no doubt that it’s a step in the right direction, even if very delayed.

I have been fortunate to have lived abroad and, as much as I love my country, the one thing that almost always gets me angry and upset is the absolutely appalling attitude of drivers on Indian roads.

People say that the two things that unite our vast and diverse country are Bollywood and Cricket. I would add, to those two, our road sense, or lack of it. Even a casual observer of Indian driving would observe that the only rule of driving on Indian roads is to break all rules! Breaking a traffic signal, who doesn’t do it? Going down the wrong way on a one-way street, everyone does it. Parking at No Parking zones or blocking other traffic, sorry, what’s that? Wearing of seat belts, only when a policeman is ahead! The latest – driving a bike on a footpath and having the temerity to ask people to step aside!

What is it that makes us such poor and inconsiderate drivers? Manu Pillai in his recent article on Livemint suggests two possible reasons:

  1. The poor state of Indian roads means that we do not respect them
  2. Indians love chaos

The second is a very interesting observation and I am beginning to realise that it’s probably right. However, I disagree with him on the first point. I have seen, and I am sure that I am not the only one, people not heeding rules even on the best Indian roads. How many of us have not seen vehicles being driven down the opposite side of the road on the best of Indian highways? Or heavily overloaded trucks trundling on the fast lane? Overtaking on the left, that’s par for the course! Forget adhering to speed limits!

No, I do not believe that we will change our behaviour even if we have world class road infrastructure. There is just something in our nature that believe rules are meant to be bent, if not broken outright.

I am very positive, in general, of the future of our country and its citizens. However, the one aspect that I am afraid might take a long time to change, if ever, is our road sense. I sincerely hope that I am proven wrong.

On e-book readers (Amazon Kindle)

e-readers
Reading on a mobile phone

People who know me well would know that I am a bit of a Luddite when it comes to digital media for personal consumption (I know, I am a digital marketer, right!). For a long time, I refused to use digital streaming services (I use them now, but still prefer my CDs for serious music listening). I still read physical newspapers (though spend more time on digital news sites). And for the very longest time, I refused to use a digital book reader, preferring the tactile pleasures of flipping through the pages of a physical book.

Until, that is, a few months back, when I succumbed and started using the Amazon Kindle App on my phone. From a slow start, I now find myself very comfortable using it, and I have started using it regularly. What do I like about it?

  1. Convenience – I like that, once I find a book, I can start reading it almost immediately. No having to search for the book at various book stores, or ordering it online and waiting for it to be delivered.
  2. Any-time consumption – Since it’s not another device and part of my phone (which I carry around almost everywhere), I can pick up from where I left off my reading anytime, anywhere.
  3. Ability to magnify – I am no longer very young, and I appreciate the fact that I can magnify the text and read in pleasure without having to strain my (weakening) eyes or use a magnifying glass.
  4. Minimalistic – I rarely read a book more than once. When I was living abroad, I was a regular member of public library systems where I could borrow books for reading. India does not really have such a system. And where libraries do exist, they typically would have very few books that would interest me. So reading e-books is a great boon for me these days, as I can avoid having to buy books (saving money, paper and lowering carbon footprint).

Having said that, I do miss the following:

  1. The sensory pleasures of reading a book – There still exists a great pleasure in opening a book and getting that unmistakable book smell as well as feeling the quality of the pages and flipping through them that e-book readers (still) cannot deliver.
  2. The joys of wandering through book shops – I used to love walking through book (and music) shops, looking at the titles, browsing a few, and then maybe picking one up to buy and read. I hardly do that any more, except at airports, and I miss the experience. In fact, I wonder if my kids would ever go to a book shop, forget a music shop!

So it looks like e-book readers are here to stay with me. I do wish, though, that they could come up with a much better system for ‘discovering’ or ‘browsing’ through titles. The current system of scrolling through pages and pages of downright useless titles in the hope of finding that one interesting book is getting quite painful. Does anyone have any suggestions on this?