In the loop

In these first days of the third millennium - and thanks for holding out, those of you who were bent out of shape over last year's premature party - we thought we would get reflective. This special edition of Work & Money explores two widespread - and divergent - social behaviors in the context of our beat: Americans want to belong. And they want to stand apart.

Spurred on by ardent mass marketers, many middle-class men and women tend to keep accelerating as consumers at least partly to show that they're members of some larger, cozy "collective." Witness the rise of SUVs, or the record-high sales of $1 million homes.

But these days Americans also tend to craft their identities as workers in large part to show that they are free-thinking individuals deserving of niche-specialist status. Witness the rise of "e-lancers," and the number of dotcommers who have tried, at least, to spin sometimes not-so-stunning ideas into gold.

True, free-thinkers buck trends all the time. But in the consumer arena, Americans do exhibit a tendency toward group think. And in the workplace arena, they are often antigroup. It's not cool to be a corporate cog.

We've asked a pair of contemporary thinkers to render their depictions of the American consumer and workplace landscapes. The result: a framework for thinking about what it might take for more consumers to routinely think in terms of their impact on society, as opposed to the images they want to project. And for considering what workers and employers could do to create and serve companies or causes they believe they could all get behind.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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