Monday, October 27, 2008

Consumer Culture Consuming Us?

We frequently hear the concept that our culture is based on consumption. What does that really mean? What is the nature of consumer spending?

Although the questions sound obvious, a little reflection reveals more. For example, although it is obvious that when we go to stores and buy merchandise, that stimulates producers to create more, and when that happens, jobs are created. Those of us who have jobs have the purchasing power to go shopping, and we also have to money to do other things. Those are the consequences of our actions.

Insights from the current crisis are causing many people to rethink these patterns. One of the consequences of people scrambling to find the money to keep their homes from foreclosure is that there has been an explosion of yard sales. Suddenly, the focus of the goal is shifting priorities. All those furniture pieces, decorative items, toys and knicknacks are suddenly out in the yard available for whatever someone wants to pay for them. Yet not so long ago, people were scurrying around malls looking for things to fill their homes with. Last year's cherished purchase is just another piece of stuff outside waiting to be hauled away. No doubt many of those sellers wish now that they had the money they spent on those things.

This pattern has been evolving for a number of years where the average house has been getting bigger at exactly the same time as the average family has been getting smaller. As the houses grow in size, of course, they also grow in price. Just like auto makers have choked on their decision to focus on bigger and bigger cars, home builders and the banking industry have choked on their decision to focus on bigger and bigger houses.

People are now reevaluating what all this means. Suddenly a more modest sized house and a more modest sized car that also come with a more modest sized price seem like very smart choices. Those smaller houses are comfortable with less stuff in them. So what else would that money be spent on then, if we are buying less stuff to fill our oversized houses with?

Perhaps on education, for our selves or our family members. Maybe more on preventive health care and health maintenance. Maybe personal care like massages, body work, consulting with readers, counselors, mentors. Perhaps more on personal experiences like vacations, visits to sacred places, gyms, yoga studios, tai chi or martial arts training. Maybe more tickets for theatre and live music performances.

Consumption of tons of video games has contributed to a younger generation of people who are out of shape and more prone to problems like diabetes at a young age. Low tech consumption would have contributed to a more fit generation. Playing ball, but not necessarily organized participation, bicycling, walking and other simple things in greater measure make a difference in general fitness levels.

The race to always own the newest cell phone, the biggest TV, the newest whatever also means that you have to work more hours to pay for all that stuff. So not buying all that means you have more time to spend with other people.

What about employment? What if our brightest minds were in a competition to make the most efficient energy systems to power our grids with renewable sources instead of being devoted to developing a hundred more flavors of potato chips and cell phones with more gizmos and games? Money would still be spent and new jobs would be created, but with much more beneficial results.

Of course, we will always be making money and buying things because these exchanges are necessary to life. So what if instead of always tending to think that bigger is better, we made more conscious choices? We vote for what kind of world we want to create when we spend our money.

1 comment:

Jake Fullman said...

We as a culture consume that is known we buy stuff and spend money on stuff that we don’t really need but it’s just there to pass the time. Fads come and go and each year there are people that may stick with the old fads and people that move on with the new ones it is how our marketed economy works. Making more money is the goal for anyone so by creating different fads and hobbies companies will sell more items to more people therefore creating a better profit.
People aren’t necessarily choosing smaller homes in a sense they are choosing smaller lots with the same sized homes to make themselves out to be better off than they really are. The point of buying a home is to live in and create a safe environment but people now take what is meant to be protection from the elements and try to make it a competition to see who has the best home. This can also be related to who has the best stuff, whether its random stuff to fill your house with or necessary things such as cars or clothes. Whatever the product is people like to get the best, and this is why people are spending ridiculous amounts of money on any old product. For example, people can get a pair of jeans at a department store for fifteen or twenty bucks but people want to go to Abercrombie and Hollister and get the eighty dollar jeans to show off their fashion. Society has become so competitive to get the best of the best and the most expensive that quality is losing most of its meaning when all you have to do is slap a American Eagle logo on an article of clothing and jack the price up thirty bucks.
I agree that people should be spending their money wiser and make more consciousness decisions on what to buy and what not to buy. If people invested their money wiser they would have more of it to spend on vacations with their family and productive things.
Low tech consumption would have created a fitter generation but without our technology advancing we would be relying on too many outside sources for advancements in that field which would make up too dependent on certain countries which may take advantage of that and shut us off completely and crumble our economy. We need to stay close with other countries in the search for better and more reliable technology that is certain but people should exercise and not stay in their homes all day and play video games that is a bit ridiculous.
In the end people will buy what they want and spend money on stupid things its what makes our society so diverse, but if we keep the focus on the important things in life such as social communication, health, and progress than we will have a better society.