If by consumerism you meen the consumption of goods in a capitalist market, then I would speculate that it was after the 16th century in Europe. If my first assumption is true then I should go on to say that “consumerism” really began to spread rapidly during the industrial revolution of the 19th and 20th centuries.
Well, in my opinion, as well as some others, that ranges as far as the oldest civilizations, if not older. Just think of the pharaohs’ and other ancient rulers’ unnecessary opulence and accumulation of wealth. Industrial Revolution expanded consumerism to lower classes, as suddenly a lot of products got cheap and available in huge quantities. So, the answer to your question just depends on how big a portion of society was “obsessed” at a given point in history.
I agree that the industrial revolution had a big part to play. It was a time when suddenly we had a wide variety of goods to choose from. We also had better efficiency in the workplace, which allowed us to build more. We could have worked less hours to create what we needed, but people started to demand more luxury in their homes. This is the reason why the work hours are as long as they are. There was a raise in the quality of life.
From the link below:” It will be argued that the quantitative (material) standard of living improved as real wages rose, while falling mortality rates indicate that the qualitative (sociological) standard of living also improved. Although there was considerable social and economic disruption throughout the revolution, this paper will try to show that these problems were caused by various government interventions, especially the Napoleonic Wars. Far from being a cause of misery and despair, this essay concludes, capitalism in the early nineteenth century improved the standard of living and set the stage for the modern comforts that we enjoy today.”
I would say there has been a gradual increase since the industrial revolution, but you use the word ‘obsession,’ which denotes a negativity and unhealthiness. That has happened over the last few decades, in which North Americans have grown to buy and collect things that have no practical value, and moreover, buy items that only have one functional purpose. That is, not only do we collect fads, we collect items that are designed specifically for a single use, so that we are forced to buy more products instead of purchasing things that are multi faceted. Also, our culture has been able to buy more since we have been able to borrow more money. The emergence of easily buying on credit has allowed people to spend beyond their means and buy more goods.
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