They seem to appear out of thin air.
Their effect is like a powerful weather system…they take over a spacetime moment with great intensity.
One minute…“no one” ever heard of the thing…the next, “everyone” wants it.
Sometimes, the fad-object is something formerly innocuous that’s been elevated to a short-lived oh-yeah-gotta-have status (see, tulip mania.)
With others, it’s an entirely new thing that inexplicably explodes on the cultural scene and becomes a “must-have” item.
These items become obsessions. People go to great lengths and expense to get one. Prices soar, along with envy. Often, parents make pursuing the fad-object a symbolic expression of their (heroic) devotion to their children.
And then, as quickly as it arrived, the fad passes. The objects become uncool. Gauche. A little embarrassing.
We look back at them and think, “how could people have gone so crazy for that?”
And then the next one comes along and the whole thing starts over again.
Didn’t we learn from the past that fads don’t last?
Yogi Berra is credited with an answer to why we don’t:
It’s tough to make predictions about the future.Yogi Berra
And, so, we end up with boxes of futureschlock, stuff we buy in the midst of a fad and end up keeping until the reality of their uselessness finally becomes clear and we “throw them away.” Wherever “away” is.
But, we’re in an era of “conscious consumption,” and “sustainability.” Won’t that eventually diminish the effects of fad-objects…future pieces of futureschlock?
The urge to be cool, now, ahead of the curve…choose your favorite…is probably going to overpower those best intentions.
We’ve built a culture based on imitation…it’s a tough genie to wrangle.
Tom Guarriello is a psychologist, consultant, and founding faculty member of the Masters in Branding program at New York’s School of Visual Arts. He’s spent over a decade teaching psychology-based courses like The Meaning of Branded Objects, as well as leading Honors and Thesis projects. He’s spearheaded two podcasts, BrandBox and RoboPsych, the accompanying podcast for his eponymous website on the psychology of human-robot interaction. This essay was originally posted on Guarriello’s Substack, My Favorite Things.