Dynamist Blog

Suburban Industry

Stephanie McCrummen of the WaPost reports on a hobby I was utterly unaware of until I moved to Dallas: the creation of elaborately decorated scrapbooks by suburban moms documenting their family's life.

With devotion, and, some say, obsession, they have fueled the thriving, $2.5 billion scrapbooking industry, an ever-expanding, ever-more-elaborate supply of photo-safe minutiae: corner lacing punches and circle cutters, rickrack and paisley paper and brads eyelets and packages of thematic word stickers -- on love, on vacation, on childhood -- the better to frame a life.

What's driving the phenomenon? One theory is that it creates an excuse for sociability while allowing time for personal enjoyment. I suspect that scrapbookers find their hobby a deeply satisfying source of "flow". But will anyone, except maybe 22nd-century social historians, really want to look at these scrapbooks?

Robbie Blinkoff, principal anthropologist with Context-Based Research Group, a company that studies consumer behavior for such clients as the Campbell Soup Co., spent a while observing the scrapbooker. He concluded that what Ballard described as "going out and coming in" was at the root of the phenomenon and others such as the iPod. Blinkoff calls the underlying trend "alone, together."

"It makes me feel part of a larger community, but it also grows my sense of self," he said. "That's what scrapbooking does, especially for moms, who have no time to be creative these days."

And yet, among their thousands and thousands of photos, women tend to include very few, if any, photos of themselves, often because they don't like to be photographed or are reluctant to relinquish control of how their descendants will view their lives in 100 years.

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