Mixed Blessings

Liking the Fast Life, Spurning Music, Etc.

Relax for a moment and consider the rapid pace of modern life. Popular wisdom holds that people of many lands are united in their distaste for it and yearn for a slower tempo. As is often the case, though, empirical data indicate the popular wisdom is mistaken. An international survey by the Pew Global Attitudes Project finds more of an even split on the issue. In the U.S., 48 percent of adults said they “like the pace of modern life” and 48 percent said they do not like it. In Canada, “like” outpolled “do not like” by 55 percent to 43 percent. In Britain and France, narrow majorities liked the pace of modern life; in Germany, a narrow majority disliked it. Italy was very anti (35 percent “like,” 62 percent “do not like”) while the Slovak Republic was quite pro (57 percent “like,” 41 percent “do not like”). Lest one think the First World is more amenable to fast-paced modernity than the Third World, note that respondents in Ghana, Tanzania, India, Bangladesh and the Philippines put majorities of their votes in the “like” column. So did the mainly urban population samples polled in Angola, Nigeria, Senegal, Guatemala, Vietnam, Indonesia and Pakistan. All told, “like” beat “do not like” in 30 of the 44 countries (with one tie).

While digital downloading is often blamed for the music industry’s woes, it’s not the only factor. A study by The NPD Group notes that 60 percent of wired consumers have never downloaded any music for free. And among these non-downloaders, music sales are down 7 percent anyway. The real problem, says NPD, is that grownups (i.e., the people with the most money to spend) don’t like the new music that’s on the market. Meanwhile, trends in retailing make it harder for them to find recordings by the “legacy artists” they actually like. Among consumers over age 36, nearly half said they’re buying less music “because there’s less music they’re interested in buying.” It’s not as if people of that age aren’t a major market for music companies. NPD says they account for 45 percent of CD sales. Moreover, population trends are making this segment of the market more populous even as growth stalls among teens and college-age consumers.

When you think about hybrid-engine vehicles, you probably envision compact cars with Green Party bumper stickers. And well you might, since the engines (which can switch between gasoline and electric power) have been available only in small cars. But a report by J.D. Power and Associates points out that hybrid-engine SUVs and full-sized pickup trucks will soon be available, thus transforming the hybrid market. By 2005, the company forecasts, trucks will account for nearly 40 percent of hybrid sales. As hybrids become available across a wider spectrum of vehicle types, sales should grow briskly from their current near-negligible level. J.D. Power expects hybrid sales to top 500,000 vehicles by 2008 and 872,000 by 2013.

Oddball Statistic of the Week: In an InsightExpress online poll commissioned by Polaroid, 58 percent of respondents declared that summer is the most “spontaneous” of the yearly seasons. Spring (picked by 26 percent) was the runner-up, with fall (9 percent) and winter (6 percent) far behind.

Much as they like women, men have no great hankering to be one. In a survey by Marie Claire and Men’s Health, men were asked which of the following they’d most like to be for one year: the president, a rock star, a pro athlete, a porn star or a woman. More than half (52 percent) would choose to be a pro athlete, 23 percent would opt to be a rock star and 15 percent would be president. Slightly more men would want to be a porn star (6 percent) than a woman (4 percent).

The good news: There are hints that business travel may pick up in the second half of the year. The bad news, for the travel industry: Business travelers have developed some penny-pinching habits during the economic downturn. That’s the mixed message in a new Accenture study. Sixty percent of the business travelers surveyed said they’ve used low-cost airlines during the past six months. As for lodging, 82 percent said they’ll use mid-price hotels for their trips in the next six months, and 11 percent will settle for budget hotels. While they might forgo more traditional amenities, 44 percent said Internet access is “a must have” when they’re choosing a hotel.

Here’s further evidence (were any needed) that teenagers are grudging with their praise for adults. A Gallup Tuesday Briefing says the polling firm asked teens to name the man and woman they admire most among those now alive anywhere in the world. Thirty-four percent of teens either couldn’t or wouldn’t come up with the name of a most-admired man; 40 percent failed to choose a woman. Among those who did pick someone, votes were widely scattered. Eleven percent chose their mothers, and no other woman scored in double digits. Seven percent picked their fathers, putting the paternal unit slightly ahead of George W. Bush (6 percent).

As consumer-confidence numbers bounce around in erratic fashion, are people ready to spend or not? We get one indication from an Ipsos-Public Affairs/Cook Political Report poll. You might say the glass is less than half full, given that those feeling less comfortable about big-ticket purchases outnumber those feeling more comfortable. But the fact that one-third of consumers feel more open to major purchases—even amid all the gloomy economic news—is a tribute to consumers’ animal spirits. If you can’t find a customer among 33 percent of the population, you’re in the wrong business. When asked to gauge their comfort level in making “other household purchases,” respondents split evenly, with 39 percent more comfortable than six months ago and 39 percent less comfortable.