The Great Recession of 2008 and 2009 was a collective trauma for many of today’s young people. At the time of the crisis, just as many were leaving university, the idea of being able to get work seemed distant. Youth unemployment was in double figures, and even people with a fabulous education were struggling to get a job if they didn’t have connections.
The experience wasn’t just a blip on the economic record: it had a profound cultural impact. The scarcity of those few years running from 2009 to 2013 led many young people to ask questions about money that people in the previous generation hadn’t. What was the use of money? Why do people work so hard? And what are they trying to get out of life?
The True Cost Of Stuff
Millennials as a whole don’t seem to value ownership of material possessions as much as the generations that came before them. Not only are consumer products much less substantial a component of the average person’s budget than they used to be, but they’re also representative of the excesses of the modern world. The plastic in the ocean, the piles of discarded products in landfill — it all seems like such unnecessary waste. Why bother?
The new thrust is towards using money for experiences. Millennials seem much more interested in spending their money on travel than buying the latest sports car. Experiences, more than things, seem to be the order of the day, something clear from the sheer variety of travel blogs on the web.
Why Millennials Want Experiences
You can also see this sea change in consumer preferences in the way that companies market their products. A Party Spirit Photo Booth is all about having a good time. Airbnb now focuses on ‘experiences’ rather than cheap room rentals. And even luxury goods makers are now trying to tie their products up in stories about what ‘feels good’ rather than the material qualities of their products. Millennials are driving changes in consumer preferences that few predicted ten years ago.
So where is all this leading? Well, unfortunately, it’s on a head-on collision with other concerns of the present generation. The first problem is the effect of experiences on the environment. Travelling long-haul to exotic destinations not only spews out vast amounts of carbon dioxide, but it also puts pristine environments at risk. Not everyone can visit the Galapagos Islands and expect them to remain stable. It’s just not feasible.
The way that experiences interact with social media is also a matter of concern. Experiences are the new sports cars and Rolex watches: a sign of personal status and success. People who have the time to travel all over the world have, in a sense, ‘made it’ while everyone else languishes in stuffy offices, sweating through their armpits in front of computers.
So what can we say in conclusion? We can say that stuff is going to decline in importance and that experiences are going to rise. Ultimately, though, experiences are likely to become increasingly local, unless there’s some dramatic change in air travel which reduces CO2.