More Financial Woes

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The NYTimes is running a series of vignettes about the impact of the recession on people. I thought this one about “What’s a Necessity” was interesting. It focuses on a bunch of everyday devices we all use. The data come from a poll by the Pew Research Center. Here’s a few pieces of the data.

The response that most impressed me was to the question of whether home air conditioning was a necessity. In 2006, 70 percent deemed it a necessity. This year the figure was down to 54 percent. Dishwashers, clothes dryers, microwave ovens and television sets are also seen as necessities by fewer people now than in 2006.

Overall, 52 percent think a television is a necessity. That is the lowest figure since that question was first asked in 1973… And appearances to the contrary, only 4 percent of Americans think an iPod is a necessity.

And most of those 4 percent must be under the age of 30. More on the Pew study from Sightline Daily.

Only time will tell if this is a lasting trend, or just a blip. But it’s sure an interesting demonstration of a fact that’s well understood in academic circles, but is perhaps a surprise to a society that’s grown accustomed to plenty: our needs are, to a large extent, a social construction. We need a lot less than we think we do; and much of the time, our perception of need is defined by what our peers and neighbors have, or what they want, and not by what makes us genuinely happy. In fact, we often have absolutely no idea what makes us happy or fulfilled.

(Credit to sannelodahl for the photo.)

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