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The Impulse Society

What’s Wrong With Getting What We Want?

By Paul Roberts
15-minute read
The Impulse Society: What’s Wrong With Getting What We Want? by Paul Roberts

The Impulse Society is an eye-opening analysis of how society has radically changed as we retreat from tight-knit communities behind the closed doors of our own personal worlds. This book not only reveals the social, economic and political manifestations of a world based solely on self-interest, but also suggests what we need to do to pull our lives and communities back together again.

  • Anyone interested in the ways our society is changing
  • Anyone curious about what it means to be an individual today
  • Anyone who wants to learn more about contemporary social and economic issues

Paul Roberts has written for The Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post and Rolling Stone magazine. He is also the author of two other books, The End of Oil and The End of Food, in which he draws compelling connections among economics, technology and the natural world.

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The Impulse Society

What’s Wrong With Getting What We Want?

By Paul Roberts
  • Read in 15 minutes
  • Contains 9 key ideas
The Impulse Society: What’s Wrong With Getting What We Want? by Paul Roberts
Synopsis

The Impulse Society is an eye-opening analysis of how society has radically changed as we retreat from tight-knit communities behind the closed doors of our own personal worlds. This book not only reveals the social, economic and political manifestations of a world based solely on self-interest, but also suggests what we need to do to pull our lives and communities back together again.

Key idea 1 of 9

Societies have become impulsive, self-centered and shortsighted.

Throw a rock in a city and you’ll probably hit a hipster: a young person wearing the latest in streetwear, iPhone glued to a hand, crowned with painstakingly styled, “bed-head” hair.

Yes, hipsters are irritating, but their significance goes deeper than you might think. They’re a walking reflection of today’s impulse society.  

We have limitless possibilities to design our own identities and personal space, through the constant consumption of goods and services. Search engines and smartphones anticipate our needs; we fine-tune our moods through music and drugs; customize our bodies with surgery; or move to a neighborhood that aligns with our personal values.

Basically, we are constantly seeking to make the world our world. This is an impulse society.

Some 70 percent of economic activity in the United States today is based on consumption. By contrast, most economic activity some 100 years ago was focused instead on production, or making things by farming, crafting, brewing, building or baking.

Americans today use their economic power to feed this have-it-now reflex – not to address long-term issues that are truly important.

In the eighteenth century, economist Adam Smith argued that when individuals pursue even their most trivial self-interests, an economy will emerge that delivers the most benefits for a majority of people. This is the American economy in a nutshell, creating wealth while spurring innovation and individual adaptability – which, granted, doesn’t sound so bad!

But in such a scenario, society’s real needs for social, economic and environmental sustainability are often forgotten. We may be great at buying teeth whiteners and plasma screens, but when it comes to important social necessities like education or infrastructure, we don’t deliver.

Tom Wolfe and other social critics some 40 years ago predicted the replacement of the post-war era’s idealism with a growing self-absorption. As you will see, they weren’t nearly pessimistic enough.

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