Shop til you Drop!?

“I’m all lost in the Supermarket, I came here for a special offer – guarantied personality”
The Clash
The last month I have been working on an address about the role of consumption in modern society. My interest in this stems from the fact that the church in Malmö where I used to work was located next to a shopping mall. Every Sunday I would stand in the church watching how the parking lot outside the mall filled up. Why has shopping become so important in our society? Well, economic reasons alone can’t explain why most people spend a lot of time in shopping malls nowadays. Turns out there are lots of research about this. It used to be we would buy products because of its function. We still do, but now we also buy stuff for its symbolic value. Research in sociology show that we often buy things that are consistent with our identity or the identity we strive to have. We use products to show who we are and what group we belong to. In the U.S.A. it is now possible to be buried in caskets with a Harley Davidson logo. But it goes further some philosophers claim that shopping also is part of our search for meaning. According to them we live in the age of the empty self where it is necessary for us to fill the void with different product. We do our existential choices in the shopping mall. And here is where it gets really interesting – is shopping the religion of modern society? Some anthropologists claim that some iconic brands are implicit religions. That means that the behavior people show when shopping is similar to that shown by religious people. Neurologist in the UK have even shown that the same parts in the brain are active in people having an “religious” shopping experience as in people having a spiritual religious experience. So I wasn’t wrong when I stood in my church in Malmö looking at people driving their cars to the temple of consumption next door. But, to paraphrase a Swedish bishop when she talked about the meaning people attach to brands in comparison to Christian faith– you can certainly build your life around brands, the question is if they are any comfort to you when you are about to die.