Summary of The Impulse Society

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Rampant consumerism drives today’s technologically dominated society, says behavioral economist Paul Roberts. The marketplace focuses on constantly catering to every desire, real or imagined. This puts the values of a greater society on a collision course with bad politics, the push to consume and detrimental business practices aimed at short-term financial results. Roberts weaves a complex story of life in modern America – and perhaps elsewhere, as well – using an incisive, interdisciplinary approach. He cites sources in psychology, sociology, economics, political philosophy and management. The result is a cogent, intelligent story about cultural change and a consumer society gone awry. Roberts, author of two other smart yet discouraging tomes – The End of Oil and The End of Food, details the socioeconomic forces he finds are making US society more selfish. He provides a sobering account of self-centered corporate thinking, myopic consumerism and an emerging oligopoly. The good news is that Roberts also offers potential cures. Though perhaps he’s just too bleak, getAbstract recommends his solid contemporary social criticism to businesspeople, policy makers, consumers and change agents.

About the Author

Paul Roberts is the author of The End of Oil and The End of Food. He has written for the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post, Rolling Stone, Newsweek and The New Republic.



Instant Gratification

Today’s complex society functions in a socioeconomic system that creates demand for goods and services people don’t need but seek anyway, in order to satisfy artificial cravings. The modern consumer society caters to personalized choices in food, cars, news and exercise programs. Excess choice, self-gratification and self-centeredness diminish tolerance for others. The “Impulse Society” increases social conflict, and undermines national culture and democracy.

This culture of self-centeredness emerged as traditional institutions – family, established religion and the media – grew less important. Recession left people financially insecure just as new technology made it easier for businesses to tantalize consumers, provoking and satiating their cravings more quickly than ever before.

Today, about 70% of the US economy is based on consumption, mostly of nonessentials. People are predisposed to seek immediate gratification; many now seem to pursue it as their main goal. The business community sets out to deliver instant delight, emphasizing cost cutting processes and the short-run bottom line as it undervalues long-term investments. As culture...

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