The Atlantic - How Humans Became 'Consumers': A History 13min

It was in an earlier work, 1759’s The Theory of Moral Sentiments, that Smith put his finger on the social and psychological impulses that push people to accumulate objects and gadgets. People, he observed, were stuffing their pockets with “little conveniences,” and then buying coats with more pockets to carry even more. By themselves, tweezer cases, elaborate snuff boxes, and other “baubles” might not have much use. But, Smith pointed out, what mattered was that people looked at them as “means of happiness." It was in people’s imagination that these objects became part of a harmonious system and made the pleasures of wealth “grand and beautiful and noble." ... This moral assessment was a giant step towards a more sophisticated understanding of consumption, for it challenged the dominant negative mindset that went back to the ancients. ... Rather than being passive, the consumer is now celebrated for actively adding value and meaning to media and products. ... there have been many prophecies and headlines that predict “peak stuff” and the end of consumerism. ... Such forecasts sound nice but they fail to stand up to the evidence. After all, a lot of consumption in the past was also driven by experiences, such as the delights of pleasure gardens, bazaars, and amusement parks. In the world economy today, services might be growing faster than goods, but that does not mean the number of containers is declining—far from it.