What Does “Fast Capitalism” Mean for Consumers? Examples of Consumer Engineering in the United States
Consumer engineering, often understood as a 1930s effort to stimulate consumption, is part of a wider process of fast capitalism, a particularly intensive form of commodity culture resulting from changes in both supply and demand. This chapter argues that fast capitalism has origins in the generation around 1900—rooted in a cluster of technological inventions, corporate innovations in product design and distribution, and consumers’ rising expectations and desire for novelty. It also considers how these transformations accelerated since the 1930s. The chapter concentrates on media consumer goods, especially recorded music. Fast capitalism produced fast people with a longing for novelty, but it also resulted in surprises, including a nostalgia for a simple life, past ephemeral consumer goods, and new ways of coping with time.