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Worldwide, economic growth is a prominent political goal, despite its severe conflicts with ecological sustainability. Contributing to the debate on economic ‘growth imperatives’, this article explores the thesis that both firms and consumers frequently acquire goods that increase their efficiency (productivity). For firms, efficiency is accepted as a main investment motive, but for consumers it is usually framed as convenience, ease, or comfort. Via social diffusion processes consumer goods that can save time and costs are transformed from a welcome expansion of possibilities into a social imperative whose noncompliance over time also has economic drawbacks. Positive feedback mechanisms not only lead to an acceleration of private life but favor ever more efficient industry and trade structures on the supply side, contributing to a redistribution of incomes and revenues. Eventually, a comprehensive consumption pattern leads to a new ‘normality’ and makes the renunciation of consumer goods like cars, computers or smartphones virtually impossible. Both microeconomics and consumption sociology generally assume fundamental differences in the motivations, goals and overall structural conditions of firms and consumers. Some reasons for this scholarly asymmetry are discussed and a more symmetrical consumption model is proposed.

Technology in Society, vol. 59, November 2019