The Experience Driven Society: Value or Detriment?
One day, I had the opportunity to watch adult television, and no it was not anything naughty. It was something other than PJ Masks or Paw Patrol, cartoon favorites of my three-year-old daughter Alivia, and something that actually sparked my curiosity related to a relatively new societal shift. The show was a special addition of House Hunters, specializing in small houses that provide buyers with the ability to: 1. Afford a house and 2. Afford experience-based living. As I watched the show, I found many things about buying a small house to be intriguing while at the same time wondering, is this where we are headed? And, when I say we, I mean individuals like my daughter. For one, the total square footage of most of these properties max out at 750 square feet. They also have the ability to be mobile, which allows for experience-based living, rather than planting roots in a specific community. This got me wondering, is this a good thing?
Previously, I talked about the subject that is Fyre Festival and the documentaries that have highlighted many growing trends that are currently shaping society as I write this. One aspect that was mentioned in both of the documentaries was the ability of Billy McFarland, the owner and originator of Fyre Festival, to market to young kids by offering an “experience” like no other in history. Add to this flashy and sophisticated publicity tools like a viral video featuring the most beautiful models in the world frolicking on the most beautiful paradises in the world and social media platforms that spread these videos like a virus, and voila: young people quitting their jobs and emptying what little savings they have accumulated to be a part of history by sharing an experience with other beautiful people.
This actually happened. Kids actually quit their jobs and forked over thousands of dollars all for a few days in the Bahamas with a lot of other kids listening to music, partying, and glamping it up. Except… the festival was a disaster and was canceled for lack of… everything. There was no food, music, and the campsite was a flood zone. What an experience indeed! I will admit, watching the video actually had me looking up accommodations in the Bahamas. It was very enticing and at the very least got me to think about what a Bahamas vacation would be like. However, in no way shape or form was I about to quit my job and I definitely was not about to hand over thousands of dollars to an uncredited establishment led by an uncredited individual. Aside from the miraculous resurrections of Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson, or Luciano Pavarotti, there are very few if any experiences that I would value more than steady and quality employment.
Which brings me to the question at hand. Is valuing experience-based living better or worse for society? Were the young people in the Fyre Festival documentary and those buying small houses on House Hunters on to something? There are many factors to consider such as the paradigm shifts in the economy which in turn are affecting work place environments and the workforce altogether. The valuation of work/life balance are causing more people to negotiate salary benefits for the ability to work from home, longer vacation packages and other perks such as the ability to bring children to work-provided childcare or bring the dog to employer provided doggy day care. On the other hand, these negotiations could in turn be stifling the economy by allowing employers to actually lower wages in many job sectors, particularly jobs geared towards younger workers new to the workforce. Meaning, younger workers could actually be hurting themselves in the long run. Maybe they don’t even care. The problem is they should.
From the ages of 18-30 years old, most individuals make the majority of major life decisions that will in turn affect them for the majority of their lives. These decisions include, going to school or learning a craft or skill, gaining employment and developing a career ladder, forming a relationship with someone or getting married, buying a house and establishing a community, and having children. Every single one of these decisions has one major thing in common with the other… they ALL cost money. And for the record, you need money, at least some money to have experiences in life. This is not to say that money dictates everything, and in fact, many of the greatest experiences I have ever had in life were free. But, the simple truth is that the inflated cost of living has risen exponentially. The economy is growing more and more out of skew towards those with money and power, leaving behind an almost extinct middle class and producing a larger portion of society into poverty. This creates an enormous problem for the future.
While the relatively new shifts in the economy has changed the workplace and the workforce and while people are choosing to value experiences over financial mobility, wages have stagnated, unions have been decimated, and the results have produced an aging populous struggling to have a home, pay bills, have decent if any medical care, and basically survive in a country where the disability population has skyrocketed. In fact, an NPR article explained,
"In the past three decades, the number of Americans who are on disability has skyrocketed. The rise has come even as medical advances have allowed many more people to remain on the job, and new laws have banned workplace discrimination against the disabled. Every month, 14 million people now get a disability check from the government"(Joffe-Walt, 2013, para 1)
What does all of this mean for a twenty-something looking to have amazing, life-changing experiences versus creating a life that includes a career that has economic mobility? It probably does not mean much right now or maybe not even in ten or twenty years from now, but it absolutely should. We all become elderly and will need assistance to live one day. We all lose the ability to work on a daily basis due to aging and we all will eventually be at an age where we look back and wish we had done something differently to ensure that at the very least, we prepared a little more financially for the senior years of life. Here is another thing to ponder. The majority of the so-called earning years while employed comes during the ages of 25 to 50 years old. Meaning, the average individual has really about twenty-five years to earn the majority of their income for their entire lives. Yes, you can still work after 50 years old. Many people still do, carefully planning for retirement. Many however, out of necessity. But believe me, the majority of these people are not moving up the economic ladder any more, and in fact, are most likely going down, while a younger work force is climbing past them. And, when you add in the fact that the life expectancy rate is actually declining in the United States, currently at age 78, the big picture becomes clearer. As a country, we are sicker than ever, living shorter lives, with fewer jobs, with less pay, with far fewer benefits, which translates to having little to no money to survive on or at the very least…have far fewer if any life-changing, awesome experiences.
The point is this. There should always be a balance to everything in life. Placing more value on experiences over money or having steady employment with upward mobility and opportunity is a mistake that eventually will come back to bite you in the end. The same can be said for placing more value on money, fame, stature, or anything of material substance. The overvaluation of one or the other is precisely what created the morally ambiguous market that was Fyre Festival that did harm to all that were involved, especially those with no money or employment. Is experience-based living a detriment to society? In this case, absolutely! And, if this is the social and cultural mindset moving forward, I am afraid this will not be the end of experience-based disasters like Fyre Festival.
Joffe-Walt, C. (2013). Unfit for work. NPR. Retrieved from www.npr.org