How Fancy Water Bottles Became a 21st-Century Status Symbol

On the surface, water bottles as totems of consumer aspiration sound absurd: If you have access to water, you can drink it out of so many things that already exist in your home. But if you dig a little deeper, you find that these bottles sit at a crossroads of cultural and economic forces that shape Americans’ lives far beyond beverage choices. If you can understand why so many people would spend 50 bucks on a water bottle, you can understand a lot about America in 2019.

The first time I coveted a water bottle was in 2004. When I arrived as a freshman at the University of Georgia, I found that I was somehow the last person alive who didn’t own a Nalgene. The brand’s distinctive, lightweight plastic bottles had long been a cult-favorite camping accessory, but in the mid-2000s, they exploded in popularity beyond just outdoorsmen. A version with the school’s logo on it cost $16 in the bookstore, which was a little steep for me, an unemployed 18-year-old, but I bought one anyway. I wanted to be the kind of person all my new peers apparently were. Plus, it’s hot in Georgia. A nice water bottle seemed like a justifiable extravagance.

Around the same time, I remember noticing the first flares of another trend intimately related to the marketability of water bottles: athleisure. All around me, stylish young women wore colorful Nike running shorts and carried bright plastic Nalgenes to class. “With Millennials, fitness and health are themselves signals,” says Tülin Erdem, a marketing professor at NYU. “They drink more water and carry it with them, so it’s an item that becomes part of them and their self-expression.”

.. Kauss says she always knew the bottle’s appearance would be important, even though positioning something as simple as a water bottle as a luxury product was a bit of a gamble. “As I moved up in my career, I was upgrading my wardrobe, and the bottle that looked like a camping accessory really didn’t serve my purpose anymore,” she says. When she noticed fashionable New Yorkers were carrying luxe disposable plastic bottles from brands such as Evian and Fiji, she realized reusable bottles could use a makeover, too.

.. Kauss and her contemporaries struck at the right time. The importance of fitness and wellness were starting to gain a foothold in fashionable crowds, and concerns over consumer waste and plastic’s potential to leach chemicals into food and water were gaining wider attention. People wanted cute workout gear, and they wanted to drink water out of materials other than plastic. Researchers have found that the chance to be conspicuously sustainability-conscious motivates consumers, especially when the product being purchased costs more than its less-green counterparts.

.. For a lot of people, they spark a little bit of joy in the otherwise mundane routine of work, exercise, and personal hygiene. For a generation with less expendable income than its parents’, a nice bottle pays for itself with a month of consistent use and lets you feel like you’re being proactive about your health and the environment.

Ask HN: What are your predictions for the next 10 years for our daily lives?

Overfishing is a regulatory, not technical, problem.Though I do think many of the hardest problems today are regulatory (climate, health, digital political advertising), not necessarily technical.

I disagree. Regulations and technology go hand-in-hand. Often the technology comes first and regulations try to keep up.

.. what skills/traits allow a person to make such predictions with high accuracy?One thing is that I think you need a pretty wide set of priors–breadth. Stuff like history, anthropology, economics, the history of art. Lots of knowledge about human behavior, politics, culture, stuff like how emotions guide behavior, etc.

When I look at a typical STEM education, we deliberately don’t prioritize this stuff. We know lots of things about how electrons behave and which sorts of functions grow the fastest and how cellular mitosis works. Not as much about why empires fall, the role of greed in political revolutions, or the changing role of women over the last 500 years. I think this puts HNers (I think STEM people are probably overrepresented here) at a significant disadvantage at making these kinds of broad predictions.

The thing we do have going for us is our ability to understand the course technology is going to take: what’s possible, what will and won’t work, and why.

I also wonder whether the people you’re around influence your ability to predict what’s next. On one hand, it’s a well-established fact in social science that many social trends, at least in the US (things like marriage and divorce rates, educational trends, changing attitudes around dating, purchasing behaviors), start in the upper-middle classes, as they have the numbers (population) to make real differences in buying habits, politics, etc., whereas the rich have more money but much smaller population. On the other hand, the lower classes in the US vastly outnumber what I’d consider a typical HN reader. Something like 70% of US adults don’t even have a bachelor’s degree, and the US median income for an individual is around $40K. Keep that in mind as you think about this stuff.

.. One of the things I find most striking when watching old movies is the general attitude of people toward tech.

If you look at movies from the 70s and 80s, conspicuous display of tech was common. Look at stereo systems of the time, and how people treated mobile phones (they were huge and conspicuously displayed). This partially echoes the “machine age” [1] of the early 20th century, a a time when tech was seen as “modern” and a force for progress.

Whereas these days, we want things to be light, invisible, and out of the way. That’s a major change in attitude.

I actually feel we might see fewer “screens” in the next few years if the combination of voice and AI becomes powerful enough that most things can be done by voice or thought. I think more and more decision-making (things like which plane to book/flight to take/etc) will be made by automated systems that know our preferences and we’ll be picking from fewer and fewer menus. Sort of like a human assistant, but available to the masses and more accurate. Google’s Duplex is a big step in this direction. The key is ceding more decision-making authority to software.

In any case, I wouldn’t be surprised if we all just have earphones, either over-the-ear, or implanted in our heads, in 15 years. The broader theme is that I think we’ll want things to be invisible rather than visible.

I also think you’re right that the rich will want less of this stuff. There’s already a huge socioeconomic difference in how people use tech. Look at how a rich family eats in the US today vs. a poor family. Rich families put their phones away, poor families spend the entire dinner posting stuff on Snap. Just walk into a burger king vs. a fine dining restaurant to see that trend in action.

Why Iran Is Protesting

.. The current unrest looks different. So far, the middle class and the highly educated have been more witnesses than participants. Nonviolence is not a sacred principle. The protests first intensified in small religious towns all over the country, where the government used to take its support for granted. Metropolitan areas have so far lagged behind.

.. they all mention unemployment, inflation and the looting of national wealth: A woman asks President Hassan Rouhani to live on only her salary of $300 a month

..  The chants are also different this time. “Where is my vote?” and “Free political prisoners!” dominated in 2009. Today they have been replaced with “No to inflation!” and “Down with embezzlers!” and “Leave the country alone, mullahs.”

.. emerged as a resonant, nationwide cry for justice and equality.

Trump Raises an Army

When asked about pardoning former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio as Harvey was making landfall, Trump responded:

“Actually, in the middle of a hurricane, even though it was a Friday evening, I assumed the ratings would be far higher than they would be normally.”

.. Trump and the people who either shield or support him are locked in a relationship of reciprocation, like a ball of snakes. Everyone is using everyone else.

The oligarchs see Trump as a pathway to slashing regulations and cutting taxes for the rich. According to a July analysis by the Tax Policy Center, “Nearly 40 percent of the tax cut would flow to households in the top 1 percent of the income distribution, giving those earners an average annual tax cut of around $270,000.”

  • Establishment Republicans see him as a path to reversing the New Deal.
  • Steve Bannon-ists see him as a path to the “deconstruction of the administrative state.”
  • All Republicans, but particularly the religious right, see him as a securer of conservative Supreme Court justices.
  • The blue-collar Trump voters view him as a last chance to breathe life into the dying dream that waning industries and government-supported white cultural assurances can be revived.
  • And the white nationalists, white supremacists, racists and Nazis — to the degree that they can be separated from the others — see him as a tool of vengeance and as an instrument of their defense.

Trump sees all these people who want to use him, and he’s using them right back. Trump made an industry out of selling conspicuous consumption. He sold the ideas that greed was good, luxury was aspirational and indulgence was innocent.

Trump’s supporters see him as vector; he sees them as market.

.. Marketing is how he has made his money and attained his infamy. That is why he is so obsessed with the media and crowds and polls (at least when he was doing well in them): He sees people, in his die-hard base at least, who have thoroughly bought into the product of Trumpism and he is doing everything to please them and make them repeat customers.

.. But in addition, and perhaps more sinisterly, I think that Trump is raising an army, whether or not he would describe it as such, and whether or not those being involved recognize their own conscription. This is not a traditional army, but it is an army no less.

.. How do you raise an army?

You do that by dividing America into tribes and, as “president,” aligning yourself with the most extreme tribe, all the while promoting militarization among people who support you.

You do it by worshiping military figures and talking in militaristic terms.

.. You cozy up to police unions and encourage police brutality.

.. You do this by rescinding Obama-era limits on the militarization of police departments

.. You do this by defending armed white nationalists and Nazis in Charlottesville.

You do this by defending monuments of Confederates who fought to preserve the noxious institution of slavery, and you do it by tweeting the coded language of white supremacists: “Sad to see the history and culture of our great country being ripped apart with the removal of our beautiful statues and monuments.”

.. You do this by pardoning Arpaio, a man who joked about an Arizona jail being a “concentration camp,” signaling to people that racist brutality is permissible.

You also do this by attempting to reduce or marginalize populations of people opposed to you: Build a wall, return to failed drug policies that helped fuel mass incarceration, ban Muslims, curb even legal immigrationincrease immigration arrests.

And why raise this army?

.. Should something emerge from the Robert Mueller investigation

.. Trump wants to position any attempt to remove him as a political coup. His efforts to delegitimize the press are all part of this because one day the press may have to deliver ruinous news.

.. Trump is playing an endgame. In the best-case scenario, these die-hards are future customers; in the worst, they are future confederates.

.. Trump is playing an endgame. In the best-case scenario, these die-hards are future customers; in the worst, they are future confederates.

 Comment:

I too believe that Trump would not accept being removed from office — or even voted out. If he could brazenly declare Clinton’s popular victory of nearly 3 million votes to be mere fraud, then he will certainly brush aside any effort to neutralize him in 2018 or replace him out in 2020. I often (masochistically) survey right wing sites, and some post about the very scenario that Mr. Blow fears: they revere Trump with a near-religious loyalty that includes using their weapons in his service. As they frequently boast, they “outgun the liberals” and, with the military training that they also tout, the anti-Trump forces wouldn’t stand a chance, they declare. Some seem eager for armed conflict. They seem to think that the military itself would back Trump in such a struggle. They consider Trump adversaries to be so dangerous that they must be “militarily” conquered in order to save the country. It’s a concern when people speak this openly and fearlessly.