I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately, and my volume of writing at work has increased a lot in the last few weeks, so I apologize for neglecting my readers and friends here.
On the Reading Table: Just finished Geek Gods, Karma Queens and Innerpreneurs, and reviewed it on the podcast at work. I really enjoyed this book; it combines up-to-the-moment sociological trends with marketing and advertising strategy. Possibly boring to most of my readers here, but even those who don’t work in marketing might find the type profiles interesting, and gain an increased awareness regarding the ways that Madison Avenue is working to capture your attention and loyalty.
From the complete opposite direction, I also just finished reading The Contented Soul, which I really enjoyed as well. The author comes from a Quaker/Society of Friends background, and is a sociologist, so much of her ideology resonated with me. (According to the Belief-o-Matic, I’m apparently an Orthodox Quaker…probably a subject for another post.) And if there is anything the Friends are known for, it’s simplifying life and focusing on contentment.
Interestingly, like Geek Gods, this book also talks about the way that people are struggling to define a sense of identity in our postmodern culture. Both books agree that people are increasingly using their purchasing decisions to define their sense of self. (This is something that is very openly touched on in my favorite movie: You’ve Got Mail, in Joe Fox’s monologue where he says the purpose of Starbuck’s is to get a defining sense of self by ordering coffee.) Obviously, the two books have dramatically different opinions on whether that is a good thing or a bad thing.
Which leads to the question, as both a Christian and a copywriter, what do I think? It’s a really great question and I’ve spent more than a little time pondering it. My general inclination is that the marketplace is a sort of barometer for what’s going on in the hearts, minds, and souls of the public. I can’t really make any moral judgments against businesses for trying to sell more of whatever their particular wares are–businesses aren’t designed to be moral authorities. They’re designed to sell stuff. If people are struggling to find a sense of self, obviously, businesses and marketers are going to figure out a way to use that to sell more stuff.
Is it troubling that so many people need their coffee (or their sneakers, or their car) to tell them who they are? Well, duh. As a Christian, I’m not troubled by the fact that there is pain in the world. There will always be pain in the world, and while it seems particularly prevalent in our postmodern society, people have always felt the pain of identity crises of various sorts.
Pain is productive when it can push people to seek out God. In my opinion, the eventual destination of any journey to find your identity is going to lead to Christ, if you carry it through to resolution. Will many stop in their quest to figure out “who am I?” at the level of “I am an independent coffee house kind of person”? Probably, just as many stop at the level of “I am an airline mechanic” or “I am a full-time mom.” Or the level of an astrological sign or personality type.
It’s a tough thing, following that question to a complete resolution, and some of the partial answers you get on the way are scary enough to give a person cause to pause. When you strive to find out “who am I?” you inevitably find a few partial answers that aren’t terribly pleasant. That’s how you discover that you’re a hypocrite (note, if you listen to the podcast, that I giggled like a nervous 12 year old when my coworker cornered me on my blatant coffee hypocrisy), or a liar, or any number of other unpleasant truths about yourself. While none of those truths are the final answer on who you are, those realizations can be painful enough to make you think twice about continuing to seek.
So ultimately, the marketplace is what it is, and will do what it is designed to do: sell stuff. God will continue to be who He is, and do what He does. I’m pretty much okay with that scenario and my place in it. I have had enough personal experience to know that God can and does work through anything, regardless of the original intent (see: the story of Joseph, Genesis). The marketplace, and those who study it, are providing valuable information on some things that are going on in the hearts and minds of people. We can study it, or ignore it, but either way God’s will will be done.