I saw a commercial on ESPN the other day that showed a footage of Obama discussing some issues related to the economic situation of the nation at some news conference. There was also a phone number to a service that apparently allowed anyone to "get out of debt." The first time around it took me a while to realize that it was a commercial.
Conversely, a lot of the actual news broadcasts are beginning to look like commercials. News bits are dramatized (remember how Fox used to make its news teasers look like fragments of the show 24? And-come on-news teasers?!). A kind of inflation is in place whereby all sorts of news are given the "breaking" epithet, and apparently are worth a 45-minute block of coverage.
On reflection, this covergence makes sense. People stop paying attention to commercials, so they are made to look deceptively like news casts. People stop paying attention to news, so they are made to look deceptively like fiction.
I guess the cause to look at here is that people get bored quickly of whatever is placed in front of their eyes. Corporations (bound by the need to maintain popular interest in order to stay profitable) scramble to keep you from turning the TV off or switching the channel, losing in the meantime sight of the goal. Given that corporations are profit-seeking, this is the right strategy. So why do people get bored? Why do we need "more" and more each time to maintain a constant level of interest?
I believe that getting "bored" is a fact of life, an artifact of being human. We have memory so we compare (time-adjusted) outcomes yesterday to outcomes today. This is what I would call the desire for progress and I don't think this is bad per se.
Where our tendency to get bored becomes a problem, though, is when we realize I think that our society today (which, unlike human nature, is not constant) has the tendency to value instant gratification. Now don't get me wrong-I see a lot of people make this mistake-there is nothing inherently bad, or evil about instant gratification. This need, in my opinion, can be fundamentally linked to the uncertainty about one's future and life purpose (either because one supposes that one needs to live an extremely rich life to find purpose, or takes a resigned view and decides to grasp the moment). The problem with instant gratification, though, is that it it a very costly life philosophy. You trade higher utility today for higher utility tomorrow-each decision you make is local: your one life decision doesn't affect any other. You don't invest. Because there is no room for investment in life, the only way to get valuable output is to put a lot in. Since we get bored, this process gets less efficient as time goes on: next time we put in the same amount, we receive slightly less output. This means either we're destined to be ultimately depressed, or go crazy trying to put more and more in.
Using money to make oneself happy is a good example: you need to continue spending more and more because you remember what you bought before and how that made you happy. That was some time ago so, time-adjusted, you now need to spend more to maintain the same utility. You end up spending ridiculous amounts of money just to be as happy as you were when you bought your first Matchbox toy car as a young child.
Is there an alternative? Yes, it is either to address the problem with instant gratification, or change your philosophy. The former is very hard- I think instant gratification works if you an inexperienced and have the potential to put a lot more in than you expect to receive. This is why children like-and should be offered- instant gratification. Later in life, as you get more sophisticated, you really need to change your philosophy. I recommend learning to be patient, investing.