Philosophy of Futility


Philosophy of futility is a phrase coined by Columbia University marketing professor Paul Nystrom to describe the disposition caused by the monotony of the new industrial age.

Nystrom observed the natural effect of this malaise was seeking gratification found in frivolous things, such as fashionable apparel and goods. This tendency, he theorized, could be used to increase consumption of fashionable goods and services, resulting in a vicious circle of dissatisfaction and the desire for new consumer goods.

According to Nystrom’s ‘Economics of Fashion’ (1928), often cited by historians and analysts of marketing, consumerism, and commercialism: ‘One’s outlook on life and its purposes may greatly modify one’s attitude toward goods in which fashion is prominent.’

He continues, ‘At the present time, not a few people in western nations have departed from old-time standards of religion and philosophy, and having failed to develop forceful views to take their places, hold to something that may be called, for want of a better name, a philosophy of futility.

This view of life (or lack of a view of life) involves a question as to the value of motives and purposes of the main human activities. There is ever a tendency to challenge the purpose of life itself. This lack of purpose in life has an effect on consumption similar to that of having a narrow life interest, that is, in concentrating human attention on the more superficial things that comprise much of fashionable consumption.’

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