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Alain Giguère

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Social division in Canada: An increasingly disturbing rift! – And Das Rheingold by Wagner

Categories: On my radar this week

Posted on 10-30-18 at 2:56 p.m.

It will probably seem obvious to anyone who reads my columns, even occasionally, that one of my constant concerns is the ability of society and individuals to live with the changes that our current era inflicts upon us. Most of the indicators we use to measure the values and mentalities of the consumers and citizens in our country indicate that there is a widening rift in society between those who consider our present era a source of opportunity for personal growth and those who believe that they are living in a cruel social jungle where more and more people are being left behind.

While much of our work has pointed to this sad trend, we have only recently become aware of its full extent through a process of synthesis.

We performed this synthesis for a study on the social division in the country on behalf of Louis Audet, Executive Chairman of COGECO's board of directors. Our study became the topic of his speech to the Montreal Council on Foreign Relations (CORIM ) on October 17.

The goal of this study was to combine all the indicators of values and worldviews that underlie the current social division in order to provide an overall perspective on the issue. We grouped the country's citizens into large groups ("segments") based on their personal values, their view of life today, the opportunities they see there and their attitude toward change.

The country is clearly divided into five large "families" - groups with attitudes, values and worldviews that are radically different from one other. As the graph below illustrates, these "segments" line up perfectly on an "axis" that extends from feeling comfortable with the present world to feeling overwhelmed by it.

From optimism about the era's possibilities to feelings of exclusion!

Whereas in the past society tended to be differentiated primarily along income or generational lines, today, personal values and mentalities are infinitely more important social-demarcation factors. Most of the consumer brands and products we study are differentiated primarily on consumer values rather than on socio-demographic characteristics (even if the particularities of Millennials are attracting a lot of attention at the moment).

These five large segments divide society into almost equal parts, from the Optimists to the Left-behind, which demonstrates the high degree of social division in the Canadian population. This division extends from a vision of today's world as a lever of fulfilment due to its exciting possibilities to a view of the world as pre-apocalyptic and deeply threatening.

Technological and social change are at the heart of this division. Innovation, ethnic and gender diversity, gender identity, gender equality, globalization, increased competitiveness and the financialization of the economy are seen by some as stepping-stones to self-actualization and freedom and by others as threats, even perversions.

Moreover, all these "factors" are at work simultaneously and, as such, are transforming society at a pace unique in the history of mankind. From prehistory to Antiquity, to the Middle Ages and the Industrial Age, history has been speeding up, but never at the exponential rate we are witnessing now.

Technological innovation continues to escalate and its pace will only accelerate. The migration of people, already an important factor, will become even more acute. Individual freedom is front and centre, giving free rein to all forms of personal expression and lifestyles far beyond traditional norms.

But it is people's worldview, their attitude toward this whirlwind, that most divides and segments the population today; and that is causing all the social and political upheavals that we are experiencing. Income and education are important factors in feeding this division but they do not account for everything. Our personal values, those inherited from our cultural heritage and from previous generations, which we have adopted over the years and on which we fall back on over time, and the vision and energy with which we approach life are infinitely more determinant.

Five segments of Canadians, five different mentalities

These five major families of citizens, for which there is no significant regional variation in the country, can be summarized as follows ...

Optimists (18%):

A unique connection to their individual potential, a strong sense of control over their lives, great enthusiasm for technological and social change, a strong ability to navigate through uncertainty, very respectful of differences and the environment: life today is a great source of excitement and opportunity for them (a higher percentage of people with higher incomes and education, and people 55 and older);

Idealists (19%):

They aspire to a society of sharing and respect, while still being very concerned about the future of the planet and their own financial future. Their worldview is apocalyptic and ecologically alarmist, leading them to reject corporations and our capitalist society (a higher percentage of young people under 35, women, office workers and low-income individuals);

Opportunists (21%):

People very focused on success, but who feel potentially excluded and disoriented and who are willing to do anything to win or regain an enviable social status; a large capacity for adaptation combined with a high degree of social conservatism; strong ethnic intolerance, even though there are many immigrants among their ranks (a higher percentage people aged 25 to 44 and ethnic communities - they are intolerant of ethnic communities except their own!);

Darwinists (24%):

Individuals haunted by a very Darwinist view of today's society, comparing it to a ruthless jungle from which anyone can be ejected at any moment; they believe that the only way to adapt to it, individually and socially, is to return to very conservative values in which roles (male/female, in particular) are very well defined and determined by tradition (a higher percentage of men, people aged 45 and up and high-income individuals);

Left-behind (18%):

People very anxious about their financial prospects; they feel socially excluded, fail to set goals and put the blame on the elites, immigrants and the new social models (a higher percentage of people aged 45 and up , low income and educational levels, as well as people living in the regions).

When pessimism and conservatism prevail over optimism and sociocultural modernity!

Optimists and Idealists combined total 37% of the population, compared with 42% for Darwinists and the Left-behind. The former are driven by projects and thrive on change, while the latter fight to maintain their position in a world in turmoil. Opportunists are a hybrid, fearful of exclusion while expending their energy in madly climbing the traditional social ladder.


The transformations in society and the economy do not offer the same opportunities to everyone. The dream of self-actualization is shared in a very unequal way. As we have seen, income and education partly explain this divergence (Idealists have low incomes, while Darwinists have high incomes) but not entirely. Fuelling this division is a growing cynicism toward elites and a view that future prospects are blocked.

The question is: In what direction will this dynamic evolve? If waves of innovation powered by artificial intelligence erase more jobs than they create, cynicism could continue to grow along with sharper social divisions. However, let's stay optimistic.

In the meantime, this social divide could pose a real threat to our democracy. Feelings of exclusion and cynicism pave the way for populism and demagogic leaders who exploit these feelings. Our institutions need a minimum of social cohesion and commitment to function properly. Without them, the future does not bode well.

Nevertheless, Canada has a relatively healthy social, civic and democratic life compared to many other countries in the world. Let's hope that we can maintain this somewhat fragile cohesion.

Das Rheingold by Wagner

My lyrical clip of the week is from Das Rheingold by Richard Wagner, an opera that will be performed by the Opéra de Montréal in November. There is a certain parallel between the Opportunists and the gods in Wagner's tetralogy, his cycle of four operas that make up Der Ring des Nibelungen (The Ring of the Nibelung). This musical excerpt is the finale from Das Rheingold, where the gods go up to their fortress built with the gold that Wotan, ruler of the gods, stole from the Rhine maidens (who we hear claiming it). We see these gods, so sure of themselves, heading for their ruin. This version, produced by Robert Lepage, will be performed again at the Met in the spring of 2019.

Masterful!

Richard Wagner: Das Rheingold, Terfel, Croft, Owens, Blythe, The Metropolitan Orchestra and Chorus, Levine (Cond.), Lepage (Prod.), Deutsche Grammophon, New York, 2010.

Cities, metropolises and regions - And Manon by Massenet

Categories: On my radar this week

Posted on 10-16-18 at 1:16 p.m.

When projected against the geographical map of the province, what the results of the recent general elections in Quebec show is nothing short of astounding:  a red island (with a few scatterings of orange) in a sea of blue!  This is a perfect expression of the gap that is growing wider throughout the world, particularly in the West, between cities, metropolises and their regions.

Coastal cities in the US versus the middle of the country, Toronto versus the rest of Ontario (that just elected Doug Ford), London versus the English countryside (Brexit), Istanbul versus the Turkish Hinterland (Erdogan), in Germany, France, etc.  Many countries throughout the world are seeing a widening chasm between their metropolises and their regions, and Quebec is no exception.

Despite of this, the future will, undoubtedly, be urban.  It will be urban and will favor the metropolises.  It will be multicultural, open to the world, agile, complex, constantly changing and driven by technology that is smart, omnipotent and perpetually transforming (Blade Runner?). The march towards this  destination is on, and nothing will stop it.  And Montreal is following suit.  Perhaps slightly more slowly than San Francisco or Palo Alto, but it's heading in the same direction all the same.

However, while cities and their residents are adapting fairly well to these transformations - in fact, they are where these transformations originate and the very incarnations of these trends - when it comes to regions, the story is an entirely different one.

Regions are less exposed to these changes and see them as a threat, particularly now that they are occurring at accelerating velocity.  While urbanites see in them an opportunity for personal development and accomplishment, residents of regions perceive them as an obstacle to their lifestyles and identities.  The dispersion of Quebec's major regions on our sociocultural map speaks to this phenomenon with great eloquence. ...

Mental postures in stark opposition!

The metropolis/region "chasm" is manifested most prominently along a certain number of mental postures that illustrate the difficulty regions have in transitioning towards the new world being thrust upon us...

• A feeling of lack of control over one's life (which we call Control of destiny);
• The capacity (or lack thereof) to adapt to a world that is complex and uncertain;
• A need for comforting territorial anchors (regional identity);
• A certain degree of ethnic intolerance (a perceived threat based on identity and region);
• Closed attitudes when it comes to social and technological change;
• Conservativism and nostalgia for better defined points of reference.

On each of these vectors, we observe a continuum of notable differences between Quebec's regions and the Island of Montreal.  Montreal residents feel more in control of their lives and their destiny, better able to adapt to life today, more open to ethnic diversity and to change and more socio-culturally "modern" (i.e., less conservative, as measured here by gender equality).

The table below seems to me to be particularly revealing.  It lists penetration rates, in proportion to the overall Quebec population (indexed at 100) of some of these indicators by region, from the Island of Montreal to the regions of Quebec, through 450 area code and the Greater Quebec City region.  The table shows that the Island of Montreal is, by far, that region that is the most in step with current times, that the 450 area code region lies somewhere in the middle and that the Quebec City region is by far the most "conservative" part of the province!

Immigration is at the center of the metropolis/region divide

Throughout the world, big cities are exploding and immigration is THE driving factor.  We are seeing intra-national migration from the regions to the cities, but also an acceleration in international migration driven by wars, misery, climate change and people dreaming of a better life.

Migrants stand out as the most visible sign of the rapid transformation in the world.  Globalization and technological change are discreet.  Migrants, on the other hand, show up in full flesh, with their values, customs, cultural heritage and "art de vivre".  They often incarnate a significant cultural difference when contrasted against local mores.  Which worries the natives. And leaves them with the impression that their cultural heritage and local identity are at risk, especially if opportunities to intermingle are limited.  (It's in the regions that we find the fewest immigrants and the highest rates of ethnic intolerance).  They see them as symbols before knowing them as human beings.

So this is how these city/region, openness to change/worry, sociocultural modernity/conservatism schisms have found their way into the center of national politics in most Western and/or democratic nations in the past few years.  The CAQ presented itself as a force for change (at least on the policy level), but it was mainly perceived as a defense against change (at least social).

Obviously, not everything is explained by this trend.  There was definitely a level of "fatigue" with the Liberals and the CAQ ran a better "oiled" machine on the ground.  But it cannot be denied: this campaign was won, in part, on the back of immigration.

As many other observers have remarked, we can only hope that, now that they are in power, the CAQ will govern further to the center than their campaign lead us to believe.  We'll see.

Manon by Massenet

My operatic nod this week goes to Manon by Jules Massenet.  It's the story of a young woman from the countryside, who, while on her way to the convent, finds herself being seduced by a handsome suitor who promises her love and all the excitement of life in the city...  "We'll live in Paris, the two of us..."

Jules Massenet : Manon, Anna Netrebko, Rolando Villazón, Alfredo Daza, Christof Fischesser, Staatskapelle Berlin, Daniel Barenboïm (Dir.), Vincent Paterson (Prod.), Deutsche Grammophon, Berlin, 2008.

Tell me who you are voting for and I’ll tell you who you are (within a small margin of error)! – And Macbeth by Verdi

Categories: On my radar this week

Posted on 09-18-18 at 3:08 p.m.

As a "back-to-school" post and in light of the upcoming Quebec provincial election, I thought it would be interesting to look at the voters who support each party, based on their personal values, hot buttons and mentalities. Just as we do with our clients' brands and their target-market segments, we can examine the motivations of these voters to better understand what drives their choices.

Each party represents a vision of society, along with specific aspirations for our society and its members. When we decide to vote for a particular party, we are in fact supporting the values it represents.

Through our Panorama program, CROP has been studying the values of consumers and citizens for more than 30 years. Using the tools of this program, we have analyzed the four main parties in the current electoral race.

From conservatism to social-democratic idealism

Generally speaking, the major social divisions that characterize Western democracies today are reflected in the dynamics of Quebec's political parties. Based on the profile of their voters, we can say that...

• The Quebec Liberal Party (QLP) is the party of proud "Canadians" who aspire to social success and status;

• The Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) gives off a whiff of neo-conservatism, given the ethnic intolerance of its supporters;

• Le Parti Québécois (PQ) embodies the commitment and pride of Quebec's regions and their everlasting dream of sovereignty; and

• Québec solidaire (QS) presents itself as the incarnation of social-democratic idealism in its pursuit of social equality and progress.

The values of the supporters of each party appear to be nicely aligned with the electoral platforms and the public discourse of their party, as we can see in the current election campaign.

Quebec Liberal Party: social success, pride, multiculturalism and "Canadianism"!

Although the federalism/sovereignty schism no longer dominates the sociopolitical landscape, Canadian and Quebec identities are still in opposition for many Quebecers, particularly at the regional level between Montreal and the rest of the province, where a Quebec identity is stronger. The Quebec Liberal Party resonates with Quebecers who feel that they are Canadian first and foremost (without necessarily denying their Quebec identity). These voters aspire to a Canada whose role as a model nation on the world stage embodies excellence in many areas. Pride is undoubtedly the "mentality" underlying their enthusiasm for this identity.

The QLP is also a party of "achievers," for whom social status is a social marker of supreme importance: they aspire to success, to an enviable social status that they can flaunt to their entourage and to society at large ("Keeping up with the Joneses"!).

Unsurprisingly, they also express great humanity towards ethnic communities and a keen openness to the world. They see themselves as citizens of the "global village."

Indicative of their slightly older demographic, QLP supporters are somewhat conservative and value the traditional family, religion and a sense of duty.

Based on the values of its supporters, the QLP is the party of social success, multiculturalism, tradition and Canadian pride.

The Coalition Avenir Québec: our Brexit!

The CAQ is somewhere else entirely on the political spectrum. It is the party of the regions; it is against "elitism" and Montreal's political correctness. Its supporters identify with their region and with Quebec's regions generally, and are disconnected from the societal debates that rage in Quebec's largest metropolis. They are the antithesis of the Plateau (Mont-Royal): ethnic intolerance reigns. Immigration, perhaps, but immigrants must quickly adopt our customs and values and leave theirs at home. The social division between Montreal's "modernity" and the conservatism in the regions is the same type of division that pitted London and rural England against each another during the vote to leave the European Union. (The mayor of London is still arguing for a second referendum.)

CAQ voters see society as a jungle, where the elites have everything to gain at the expense of "ordinary people." (The Montreal elite yet again.)

There is a certain conservatism, a nostalgia for more defined, more stereotypical roles for men and women. They aren't involved in discussions about gender equality (which they consider a debate for Montreal and the Plateau!).

Thus, the CAQ perfectly embodies a populism resulting from a society that is changing too fast, where their supporters no longer see themselves reflected, where "the people" have been forgotten. The CAQ gives them a voice.

The PQ: in search of a lost country!

The vast majority of people who still call themselves sovereigntists are allied with the PQ. They are the opposite of QLP supporters, identifying primarily with Quebec and very little with Canada (they live in the regions). They also display a victim mentality: they feel socially excluded by a society that is changing too fast. Their high degree of community engagement provides them with the comfort of being useful and productive.

The feeling of exclusion among PQ supporters creates a fantasy of civil disobedience and rebellion (we can almost hear the pots and pans banging!). These Quebecers have a sense of frustrated fulfilment, which sovereignty could have prevented. While the loss of their sovereignty dream has left these voters feeling defeated, they still have a great deal of pent-up energy to assert themselves, transcend current constraints and express their uniqueness.

Consumption has become a social marker for them. Their feelings of exclusion make them crave the status that consumption provides.

Ethnic intolerance is also part of these voters' profile. Their ideal country is first and foremost for "old stock" Quebecers. Similar to the CAQ, immigrants are welcome but only if they quickly adopt our customs and values and leave theirs behind. Hence the competition between these two parties on the issue of Quebec identity.

Thus, the PQ expresses melancholy for a lost country (after two referendums), commingled with feelings of exclusion from a society that is changing too fast.

Québec solidaire: the idealism of possibility!

As one might guess, responsibility and social and environmental engagement are at the centre of these voters' motivations. They act like our conscience-a constant reminder of the challenges facing society and a very critical attitude toward companies and institutions that do not do their duty (or worse ...).

This engagement is fuelled by a feeling of urgency-for the threatened sustainability of our planet and its resources, for the widening gap between rich and poor; by a feeling of looming social and ecological disasters if nothing is done, along with the conviction that we can fix things if we just put our minds to it. For these QS supporters, apocalypse is a project: an opportunity to change the world!

This engagement also has a component of personal fulfilment: the belief that everyone has potential just waiting to be realized-a dream of personal development fostered by solidarity.

Finally, we should not be surprised that these supporters display the highest level of multiculturalism of all the parties. Not only do they warmly welcome foreigners, they are convinced that their contribution will enrich our society (cultural fusion).

A profoundly humanist party that dreams of self-actualization for all!

Trends in Western democracies

The social divisions described in the profiles of the voters of each of the major Quebec parties are now found in just about every Western country. This is what happens when societies change too quickly.

On the other hand, Quebec, along with the country as a whole, still has a chance to avoid even greater divisions because our inequities do not yet threaten the social fabric. Our "right wing," so to speak, is still less extreme than in many other countries. Our social programs and Canada's social awareness still bridge the ideological gaps.

Let's hope that the future evolution of our society continues to foster this relative social harmony.

Macbeth by Verdi

My musical clip of the week is Macbeth by Giuseppe Verdi.

Despite all the failings of modern Western democracies, democracy as a political system still remains the most civilized way to exercise power. This has not always been the case. Over the centuries, bloodshed was more often than not the order of the day.

In this excerpt from the opera of this Shakespeare tragedy, Macbeth's wife fantasizes about becoming a queen and prepares herself to convince her husband to kill the king in order to seize power.

And she intends to use her sexual prowess to get him there!

Giuseppe Verdi: Macbeth, Lucic, Pape, Netrebko, Calleja, Luisi, The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Chorus and Ballet, Deutsche Grammophon, New York, 2014.

Are you a dog person or cat person? Whether you have a dog or a cat says a lot about who you are!

Categories: On my radar this week

Posted on 06-19-18 at 4:56 p.m.

For my last post of the season (I take a break for the summer), I am turning my attention to the "guardians" of dogs and cats by analyzing their hot buttons in the same way we do for consumers of brands and products. Let's have some fun!

Nearly one in three (31%) Canadians have a dog and an equivalent proportion (32%), a cat.

These pet guardians are over-represented by people under 55 years of age, particularly 18-24 year olds, residents of small municipalities and rural areas, as well as by people living in households with children.

Interestingly, people with higher incomes tend to have dogs, whereas the opposite is true for cats.

A lever for personal fulfillment!

Aside from their sociodemographic and socio-economic traits, what truly distinguishes these pet owners are their mentalities and values, their motivations. The "hot buttons" prompting people to share their lives with one (or more) of these animals are particularly telling.


What dogs and cats have in common is their ability to connect us on an emotional level to life, to nature. People with pets express a strong need for this type of "BioManist" connection-a feeling of symbiosis with nature and life in general.

Dogs and cats also respond in a fundamental way to people's desire for personal fulfillment. Their presence provides the kind of emotional support and psychic balance that predisposes their guardians to pursue personal fulfillment and development. In fact, many studies over the years have shown that animals have a significant and positive impact on people's overall health.

Dogs: a social marker and a social lubricant!

In addition to the traits they share with cats, dogs have their own identity. They cohabit with people who need to achieve and who have a strong desire for social validation and status recognition. Dogs are a way of signalling our social standing in the world. We "wear" our dogs like we wear a designer label -as an expression of "conspicuous consumption." Dog owners are particularly strong on this hot button, which we normally associate with brands!

Hence, dogs function as a "social marker." They say something about us to other people! We've also found that dog owners enjoy violence in the media (movies, games, etc.), as if they are proud of the "power" of their animal! (Without in any way justifying the cases of canine violence, which are fortunately rare occurrences considering the high number of domestic dogs. Hopefully, we are only talking symbolically!).

Dogs also function as a "social lubricant." They come to us. They go to other people. They are gregarious. They have relationships with their human guardians. They contribute to our socialization. They encourage people to meet. Dog owners express a strong need to socialize, to connect with others. Dogs seem to encourage these connections and encounters by mediating some of our relationships with others.

As a marker and social lubricant, dogs contribute to our social life, to the way we live together!

Cats: a more intimate relationship with life

Cats are more intimate creatures. They generally invite a closer and more respectful symbiosis with life and nature. They are more independent. We go to them. They encourage this response in their guardians, who also express this particular way of connecting more intimately with life and others around them.

It is fascinating to observe that cat guardians are particularly sensitive to environmental protection, to mutual aid and social commitment, and to society's ethical issues. Cats express this same sensitivity to life.

Moreover, cats tend to have guardians who are more individualistic and idealistic, who are concerned with their uniqueness and need for personal fulfillment, in similar fashion to their pet's independent character (a sensitivity to themselves that does not exclude others; far from it).

Cats also provide intense "polysensorial" experiences in response to our strong need for enjoyable stimulation through all our senses. (We want to touch cats, smell them, snuggle with them, etc.). Cats are sensual creatures who like to rub against the "things" they like.

It's not quite that black and white!

You might object that many dog guardians have relationships with their dogs that are closer to what I have described for cats, and vice versa. True enough. What I have described is the average profile of pet guardians, their predominant characteristics, without any specific segmentation. (I, too, have a dog with whom I have relationships that is similar in many respects to the one many people have with their cats, even though my dog is the size of a bear!).

Here's to more inclusion of animals in our society

This brief analysis leads me to a quite obvious conclusion: as a society, we need to make more room for animals. As a social project and in our personal lives (for those who don't have pets), we should promote more inclusion of animals in our society, in our communities.

Pets contribute to personal development; they connect people more intimately to life and to nature generally. They help us live together, etc.

Numerous studies have demonstrated the physical and mental health benefits of domestic animals. That is why animal therapy is often recommended for the relief of all types of ailments.

In Paris, you can eat at a restaurant with your dog, and more and more companies are accepting dogs in the workplace.

It is interesting to note that, in Canada, it is the smaller municipalities and rural areas that have the highest proportions of homes with dogs and cats.

Urban living tends to exclude domestic animals. We need to reintroduce them!


La Traviata by Giuseppe Verdi

For my musical clip of the week, I searched in vain for an opera excerpt with an animal. However, the concept of social marker that dogs represent evoked an obvious choice. One unequivocal example of a social marker is the courtesan for the Parisian bourgeoisie of the 19th century. For a bourgeois, having one of these beautiful young women on his arm was a way to enhance and show off his status.

A dramatic example of the fate of these women is Verdi's La Traviata, based on the novel by Alexandre Dumas, fils, La Dame aux Camélias (The Lady of the Camellias), where death is the only possible outcome. (Traviata signifies a fallen woman in Italian.)

In this magnificent excerpt, the courtesan, who has fallen in love for the first time, realizes that she has no right to this love because of her status as a fallen woman (madness, madness!).

Many thanks to all my loyal blog readers for the stimulating conversations.

Happy summer!

Giuseppe Verdi: La Traviata, Anna Netrebko, Rolando Villazón, Thomas Hampson, Wiener Philharmoniker, Carlo Rizzi (dir.), Willy Decker (prod.), Deutsch Grammophon, Salzburg Festival, 2005.

Do you believe that companies plan the obsolescence of their products so that you buy new ones? 64% of Canadians think they do (and Madama Butterfly by Giacomo Puccini)

Categories: On my radar this week

Posted on 05-29-18 at 3:09 p.m.

In late 2017 and early 2018, Apple was hit with public accusations of building obsolescence into its older smartphones to encourage consumers to upgrade to its newest models. Apple's accusers claimed that the latest versions of Apple's operating system were slowing down the older devices. Apple admitted to doing this but justified the practice as a way to preserve the batteries and extend the life of older devices.

Apple is currently the subject of a number of complaints around the world, accusing the company of using planned obsolescence. This particular public relations storm should remind consumers that many products on the market probably incorporate built-in obsolescence to stimulate sales.

From lightbulbs to cars, from domestic appliances to inkjet printers, we can't help but question the durability of manufactured products these days.

The public outcry against Apple prompted us to ask Canadians if they believed that manufacturers were practicing planned obsolescence in order to stimulate sales of their new models. Respondents were asked which of the two opinions below they agreed with more...

A) In order to facilitate the introduction of new products and support the pace of their innovations, manufacturers design their products with a built-in limited lifespan, thus forcing consumers to purchase a replacement after a shorter period of time

OR

B) It’s not in the best interest of manufacturers to market products that do not last long. Their reputation is in the balance; I don’t think that they deliberately reduce the useful life of their products

To our great surprise, almost two out of three Canadians (64%) believe that manufacturers plan the obsolescence of their products in order to stimulate sales of their new upgraded models. I consider this an enormous proportion - and an indication of a lack of trust, to say the least!

Moreover, this proportion is relatively consistent across all the subgroups we analyzed, apart from a few exceptions with not very large variances. This indicates that there is almost consensus around this issue.

Note that 25-34 year olds and technicians are the most critical of this practice, with 71% and 73% respectively in agreement with our first statement. But overall, the differences on all the analyzed criteria stand at around 3% (68% in Quebec vs. 63% in English Canada in agreement with statement A).

Ecological concerns versus the joy of consumption

When two thirds of the population agree with a proposition, it is difficult to identify what distinguishes them from the rest of the population (since almost everyone is on board with the first statement!). Thus, in terms of values and hut buttons, it is difficult to determine what motivates their attitude.


Nevertheless, we find it interesting that people who believe that manufacturers are using planned obsolescence are distinguished by a high degree of defeatism about the future of the planet, especially in ecological terms. They view consumption as a source of unnecessary gratification with a detrimental impact on the environment. They are very mistrustful of brands, accusing them of creating non-essential needs.

By contrast, those who do not believe that manufacturers are using planned obsolescence are the most enthusiastic about consumption. They see it as a kind of playing field. For them, they find buying something, no matter what it is, particularly pleasurable and stimulating. They trust brands, the companies behind them and their advertising messages. They want to believe in brand promises and enjoy the gratifying experiences that brands offer them. It's as if their consumption enjoyment is blocking their critical faculties!

An economy and consumer psychology fuelled by the joy of consuming

The paradox of consumers' attitude toward planned obsolescence is this: a large majority believe it, but the joy of consumption has grown so much in recent years that people prefer not to think about it. In one of my previous posts, I examined the consumption-as-personal-gratification trend, one that continues to rise in 2018. Planned obsolescence notwithstanding, we increasingly want to enjoy the rewarding experiences we get from consumption. This in turn drives the economy, creates jobs and fills government coffers. Consumption fuels the economy and people derive great satisfaction from it. And, because it is ephemeral, it must be constantly renewed. Whether this is a vicious or virtuous circle depends entirely on your point of view.

We can certainly decry the waste of resources and the impact on the planet caused by our consumption patterns but, given the ever-growing enthusiasm for consumption, neither our awareness of planned obsolescence nor our ecological conscience is likely to slow this trend.

We can only hope that manufacturers incorporate more socially and environmentally responsible business and manufacturing practices over time.

Madama Butterfly by Giacomo Puccini


One way to view planned obsolescence is as an act of betrayal on the part of manufacturers. For my operatic pick of the week, it was easy to find examples of betrayal. Operas are packed with them!

One of the most poignant tales of betrayal and the inspiration for some of the most spectacular lyrical flights is Madama Butterfly by Giacomo Puccini. It is a horrifying story based on real events (although the original protagonist was French not American.) In the opera, a young American naval officer on layover in Japan marries on an exotic whim a 15-year-old Japanese girl named Cio-Cio-San, gets her pregnant, disappears for three years and returns with his new American wife to take his child home to the United States. Faced with such betrayal, Cio-Cio-San, known as Madame Butterfly, commits suicide.

In this musical clip, "Un bel di, vedremo," one of opera's most beautiful arias, Cio-Cio-San imagines the long-awaited return of her husband.

Giacomo Puccini: Madama Butterfly, Giordani, Racette, Fedderly, Zifchak, Croft, The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra, Chorus and Ballet, Sony Classical, New York, 2009.