A ‘less-is-more’ culture is starting to gain traction

Sometimes it’s worth being labelled the bad guys

Ah the good old days. How is it that each new generation finds a way to mess up everything no sooner than its predecessors finally perfected, well, everything?

From social norms to nutrition, pop culture to the pursuit of happiness, a ‘golden past’ – always conveniently just out of reach – is exalted by those no longer in on the zeitgeist.

Here’s a useful tip: next time someone tells you some aspect of life ‘used to be better’ in an indefinite era that you cannot attest to, replace said aspect with said person’s name and you’ll get a more valid reading of their gripe.

This is not some ageist diatribe. Nor is it a rejection of the possibility that some things indeed used to be better. Rather it is a reflection on the jaundiced way the past is so often remembered.


It seems ‘millennials’ have twigged this fallacy faster than most. Perhaps because their parents’ generation have more to answer for than most.

Cyberspace is awash with commentary from an agitated brood critical of the legacy the baby boomer generation has bequeathed upon its offspring.

Overconsumption, reckless environmental practices and growing financial and social inequality – demonstrated in everything from property bubbles, inadequate access to healthcare, education, waste disposal and the ever-growing gap between rich and poor – are the characteristic hangovers most often associated with the generation who knew what it was really like in the most recent ‘golden past’.

Less than kind

As the dust settles on the recent past though, it looks as if history will be less than kind in its analysis of the behaviour of those who had their finger on the pulse.

In the US it is often said there couldn't have been a liberal, progressive president like Obama had the country not just endured eight years of George W Bush.

The excessive consumerist behaviour characteristic in the 1970s and 1980s, is considered so passé by the twentysomethings of 2016. Minimalist movements – encouraging a 'less is more' approach to life – are gaining new followers all the time. Spare aesthetics is influenced in no small part by traditional Zen Buddhism but has brought ancient Japanese philosophical methods directly into the homes of many Westerners. The aim is to possess only the things one truly likes – a philosophy espoused by consultant Mari Kondo, whose "KonMari" method for organisation has become hugely popular in the United States.

Other, more practical expressions of minimalism includes a movement which is encouraging people to reduce the total number of material possessions they own to 150.

This might seem like quite a radical step. But those who eliminate waste and excess in their lives have reported greater levels of happiness, reduced stress and the reclaiming of much of their free time, which had heretofore been taken up by additional cleaning and shopping.

Outdating obsolescence

The lightbulb may have been the original symbol of planned obsolescence but in 2016, it is the smartphone. Like a Malibu Stacy doll “now with new hat” from the cartoon series,

The Simpsons

, all it takes, it seems, for the latest smartphone to become more desirable than the almost identical one in your pocket, is for its manufacturers to include some tiny additional feature and perhaps a new name or numeral.

And it may be easy to blame industry and big business for all the excess and waste surrounding us but planned obsolescence is, as one commentator put it, an “inevitable consequence of sustainable businesses giving people goods they desire”. Industries may benefit from it, but consumer demand is what drives this dirty machine.

There are, however, indications in some industries that the practice is being phased out. Those opposed to the continued practice of planned obsolescence in industry are no longer on the radical fringes. Google’s initiative, Project Ara, is working to produce smartphone-like units with slots where technologically outdated components can be switched for new ones.

United States Department of Transportation figures show the average age of a car currently stands at 11.4 years. In 1969, that figure was 5.1 years. Electric car manufacturer, Tesla, has said it will repurpose returned worn-out batteries from its cars for home energy storage. The company already auto-downloads and upgrades its vehicle’s software while charging overnight.

Greenshoots – as we used to call anything resembling positive news in the years following the 2008 economic meltdown – is all this amounts to for now. But what could push this movement from fringe to mainstream is the perceived existence of a common enemy to condemn.

The existence of an ‘us V them’ narrative will help the current generation define what it doesn’t want to be. Even if it is unfair to lay the blame for society’s ills entirely on the doorstep of baby boomers (or anyone else) if it makes for a more ethical, environmentally conscious and honest society in the future, it’s worth being labelled the bad guys.