This post is part of our “All About Gifts Series”.
We’ve looked at gifts throughout the years and seen how they’ve moved from simple and heartfelt homemade gifts, that weren’t concerned with brand names, to now more impersonal gift cards or obsessive brand name items. The movement from a few gifts under the tree, usually handmade and heartfelt, in the 1940s and 1950s to having more gifts under the tree in the 1960s and onward, was because of America’s increase in wealth. The more we had the more we spent, which is evident by today’s economic situation, where consumer spending makes up most of the economy.
The Industrial Revolution ushered in a new kind of consumption especially in terms of gift giving. New and cheaper goods were being produced and with the rise of the middle class this allowed for consumerism to really thrive. The home and the work place were seen as two different and separate entities and there were few children born into every family. Unlike in previous time periods, where children were seen as economic assets, they could now be enjoyed and pampered.
With a middle class making more and growing along with the industrial factories producing goods and services more efficiently, retailers realized the power consumption. Shopping malls and retail outlets were also on the rise at the end of the nineteenth century and holidays were glamourized. Entire industries began to sponsor holidays and encourage spending. They create many of the holidays that we enjoy today including Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day. They also created many of the standards we view for holidays including flowers for Mother’s Day and fireworks for Independence Day.
Consumerism has played a major factor in the evolution of gift giving as the more we have the more we buy, an American truth, but there was also a cultural shift. In the 1970s when corporations began to institutionalize helping the needy and less fortunate, it signaled that this aspect of our culture had changed. In the decades preceding the 1970s, namely the 1950s, the responsibility of taking care of those less fortunate around us, was a community responsibility and not something corporations or organizations were founded specifically to handle. The community took care itself, but as we crossed into a new millennium we saw a dramatic shift in our social networks and even some of our values.
With the rapid technological changes that have revolutionized our society, particularly in the late nineteenth century, each generation since has undergone major social changes. We are now living longer and live more liberal lifestyles. Arguably the generation that has seen the most change has been Generation X (those born between 1965-1982, roughly). They are a huge segment of the population and are also changing the way our culture exists. They are defined by what they aren’t doing unlike previous generations, which were defined by what they did. They are not getting married and creating a whole new kind of life network: one that is based on friends. This means that our view on gift giving has also shifted.
This shift is bolstered by the rise of online social networks, which are all about friends and have no geographic boundaries. Unlike familial relationships where any gifts could be given and accepted or is given out of obligation, these new networks are a little more fickle and less predictable unlike our kin. These new networks require higher emotionally important gifts that reinforce and showcase the importance of these social connections. This means that gift giving now has two networks with different sets of rules and also has changed our gift giving culture.
Gift giving has evolved along with our society. From simple gifts that were often handmade to gifts that are mass-produced and commercialized, the reason we give gifts has not changed: to reinforce bonds and establish new connections. What we give has changed over the years and become more commercial, but as our networks expand from family to include friends there is a movement to returning back to meaningful gifts that show how important a particular relationship is to us. Our mission at Expressionary is to assist you in this process and help you give more meaningful gifts. Give it a try and put the meaning back into your gift giving.
Thank you for reading our All About Gifts series.
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