All in all, the Averaged American is a fascinating look at the transitional period between the late industrial and early atomic ages through the lenses of the new fields of large scale of mass marketing and mass polling. I was particularly interested in how it’s possible that the practices had unintended effects.
For example, when writing about Dewey’s defeat by Truman and the blow that it was to the young field of national political polling, the books mentions simplifications and assumptions made by polling organizations that led to their disastrously incorrect prediction. Among these was the marginalization or otherwise ignoring of blacks and other minorities. While pollsters saw this as evidence that their methods needed tweaking, the larger lesson learned is that minorities and the poor could not be ignored by politicians, this conclusion has a large impact on the later social security and civil rights movements.
Another interesting point the author of the book mentions is the idea that surveying and publishing the results of mass information gathering actually changes how people think and behave. During the election, it was feared that polls reporting that one candidate had a lead would increase his popularity due to the bandwagon effect.
As a whole, the transition from regional focused data collection to the national level was one of the large factors that contributed to the modern world. I believe that this change, although I’m sure some will disagree, was another inevitable stage in the general global trend towards bigness (big business, big government, big media etc.) brought on by the introduction of technology into day to day life. This process, which began in earnest in the mid 1700’s and continues today, has completely done away with the way that everything was for thousands of years. The Industrial revolution brought mass production, the imperial age developed mass government, and the decades of the cold war were shaped by mass media and mass marketing.
Some interesting points, current trends in the development production technology, which focus on the efficient creation of highly customized products, suited to individual consumers, signal a radical departure from the fordistic past, which sought to create one design that could be sold to anyone and everyone.
Additionally, the centralization of popular culture into just few record companies and film studios has led to a backlash in society. A movement has developed in music and the arts which rejects what is popular or mainstream simply because it is so. This movement, spearheaded by the “hipster” subculture and its derivatives, rejects traditional pillars of media like Hollywood and New York in favor of local, independent artists.
Whether these trends are a sign of things to come, or just bumps on the road to a more homogeneous world, remains to be seen.