I just went through a ritual of helping my kid move into a college dorm. The college he is entering has pretty much mastered what could otherwise be a chaotic and messy process. We had exact directions for where to go, where to drop stuff off, and there were plenty of helpers and carts on site. While watching my son’s belongings as he was lugging stuff upstairs, I had the occasion to review everyone else’s pile of stuff, one of which included a giant flat screen TV (several kids hoped to get the owner as a roommate). The amount of stuff was impressive, with even more modest piles probably having enough to furnish a house in a “less developed” country. It got me thinking about Peter Menzel’s book “Material World” published in the early 90’s and showing pictures of families with all their belongings in front of their houses. In fact, when I got home I found an old NOVA PBS documentary based on the book and called “World in the Balance.” I just wanted to see how a single American teenager compares in terms of material possessions (physical only and probably partially so as, I am sure, most kids left lots of stuff at home) to families around the world. In my inexpert judgment they have way more than the Wu family in China had in the early 90’s, about a third of what a three person family in Japan had, way more than a family in Mali (albeit no pots and pans), and about a quarter of what the American family of four had at the time. And this is just what they are starting life with.
Any wonder I was humming “I’m a Material Girl” all the way home?