The new symbols of America

For the past 24 years (the time that I have been back to the mainland), I have noticed three waves of “symbols” in the United States.  By symbols I mean icons that appear in every major population center in all the states I have traveled through.  I wonder if they have something to say about they type of lives we live in.

The 80’s seemed to be the era of the 7-11.  For a time there, it seemed like there was a 7-11 on every-other street corner.  Some of these stores also had gas stations at their location, but for the most part it was just their main store.  You could walk in, get whatever quick snack or item you need, and then dash off to wherever you were heading next.  This met the need of our ever-growing fast-paced lifestyle.

In the 90’s you saw more fast food and chain restaurants popping up on street corners.  With people transitioning away from your standard sit-down meal (that went along with our on-the-move lifestyle of the 80’s), families could go out and have more meals away from home without breaking the bank.  This is because of the increased competition between the various chain restaurants who tried to draw as many people into their establishments as possible.

The turn of the century brought about a different symbol though.  Instead of more services to meet the fast-paced society that was developing over the prior two decades, this new symbol highlighted the materialism that occurred by those who fed the economic growth of the nation.  I’m talking about the self storage facilities.

These places were popping up everywhere I turned.  Some were in dense residential areas while others were in heavily commercial zones.  Some were even on the outskirts of town, where the price for the acreage of land needed to house the facilities were cheaper.  The need for these ever-increasing facilities only highlight the culture of materialism that expanded in the 2000’s, and might be why so many families were hit hard when the economic bubble collapsed at the end of the decade.

Maybe these three symbols were the warning signs that we overlooked, or maybe their existence were merely coincidental.  No matter what they are, we might want to pause when we see the next symbol that appears on the street corners, and project what they might mean and what impact they might have on our culture and our lives.


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