Consumerism in our daily reality
What is consumerism? Have you ever thought about the nature of consumerism? Why do people purchase and consume the things, which they do not actually need? These questions are quite relevant and important nowadays. The rates of consumerism have increased recently and I want to analyze the cause and effect of this phenomenon.
Consumerism is a phenomenon that has always been in the world, in the relatively developed societies, where people purchased goods and consumed resources excessive to their needs. However, a great turn in consumerism arrived just before the Industrial Revolution. In the nineteenth century. There was a major change after the Industrial Revolution, when the scarcity of resources was overcome and a huge variety of goods in unlimited amounts became available to wide range of people. The Industrial Revolution and several other factors created capitalism – a new type of economy that resulted in a rapid growth of a middle class in developed countries. Middle class started to have money not only to cover their basic needs but also more. In 1899 Thorstein Veblen called it the “leisure class” (Veblen 22).
But the key thing is, who do we call a consumer? To consume means to use things, for example by eating them, wearing them or playing with them or just using them to satisfy our desires and needs and to consume also means to destroy. According to Bauman, “consumed things cease to exist, literally or spiritually”. They are either used up physically (for example eaten) or lose their value and are no longer attractive (an overused phone) and therefore unfit for consumption. Nowadays, customer can be anyone, especially at this level of globalization, companies can target any group they want. First objective for the firms is to increase their production rate, but Naturally, it is impossible to improve the rates of production if nobody buys your product. If you want to sell your product, you have to persuade your potential customers in the quality and importance of your goods and services. This is the point then advertising and there mainly human psychology comes in. Consumerism is closely connected with the mass culture and psychology. When a human being sees that a product is popular, she will purchase it too. The popularity of a product affects the vulnerable human psychology and makes people buy the items they do not need. There is a myth: “The more we have, the happier we become.” This myth is suitable with the state of consumerism. People believe that the more things they have, they would be happier but in fact it is not. Our happiness now is determined by other people unhappiness and so our need is. We want something because we saw it somewhere and someone own it. The desire of owning makes us addicted to have almost all the things we saw. Moreover, the desire becomes greater if the things we want is being consume by most of the people. Due to a tremendous consumption, it makes the things become as if it is our primary needs. Modern people buy new computers, though their old ones are in good working order. Indeed, as consumerism is based on constant purchasing of new goods and services, with little attention to their true need, durability or environmental consequences of manufacture and disposal, as it is driven by advertising which creates a desire to follow trends results. They see the advertisements of the new models of clothes, furniture or smartphones and decide to purchase them, because they are trendy.
To buy and to own has become Western society’s essential thing. As the information technologies developed, the power of media grew. To support a profit-based capitalist economy the ruling class, which owned the means of production had to convince the middle and lower classes to buy and generate profit. And here’s when mass media stepped in. Advertising – as the main engine of sales process, has played a huge role in consumerism’s spreading and development. Newspapers, TV commercials and billboards screamed about new phones, cars and houses, convincing us to buy and buy and buy. The mass media also made modern consumerism borderless and international. With satellite TV channels and Internet you can sell anything to anyone in the world. International consumerism is a result of globalization, which reduces the number of borders in our world.
Steven Miles insisted on a careful distinguishing of “consumption” and “consumerism”. According to Miles, “notion of consumerism can be said to be of more sociological interest than consumption. So, modern consumerism has been formed under the influences of corporate politics, the commercialization of culture (more and more intellectual, cultural and spiritual “goods” are produced) and the impact of mass media. People started to have more money – and they started to consume more. But what is the real problem behind that? (Miles)
The huge rise in resource consumption in wealthier countries has led to an ever widening gap between the rich and the poor. As the age old saying goes, “the rich get richer and the poor get poorer.” Using the latest data, in 2005, 59% of the world resources were consumed by the wealthiest 10% of the population. Conversely, the poorest 10% accounted for just 0.5% of utilisation. (Globalissues.org, 2018) As well as obvious social and economic problems, consumerism is destroying our environment. As the demand for goods increases, the need to produce these goods also increases. This leads to more pollutant emissions, increased land-use and deforestation, and accelerated climate change. We are experiencing devastating effects on the planets water supplies, as more and more water stores are used up or diverted as a part of intensive farming procedures. (Mayell, 2004) Waste disposal is becoming a problem worldwide, and our oceans are slowly but surely becoming a giant waste disposal pit. It is estimated that over half of the plastic produced every year is single use – this means that it is used once, and then either thrown into landfill or finds its way into the environment.
According to scientists, up to 12 million tons of plastic enters the ocean every year, forming giant floating garbage patches all over the world. (Science | AAAS, 2018)
Main reason for this ecological issue is, that firm now aren’t producing high quality products, for just simple reason to have more sales, for example light bulb when it was invented had almost twice more life duration than it has today. Or on the other hand if product is high quality made they are trying to make it psychologically obsolete, as the Apple does for instance. One of the reason is also the cost minimization, in the world we have alternatives to plastic, but it is not used simply because it’s more expensive. For those reasons, big manufacturing firms decided to make campaign, that keeping world clean is everyone’s responsibility. But this is a drop in the ocean.
As reported by National Geographic News, almost 1.7 billion people worldwide are now part of the “consumer class” (National Geographic refers to them as “the group of people characterized by diets of highly processed food, desire for bigger houses, more and bigger cars, higher levels of debt, and lifestyles devoted to the accumulation of non-essential goods”). And the disturbing fact is that this number grows. What for years was considered a pain of the Western countries is now spreading in the third world – half of global consumers live in developing countries, including 240 million in China and 120 million in India – and they are markets with the most potential for expansion (Mayell).
Christopher Flavin, president of Worldwatch Institute said in a statement to the press, that “Rising consumption has helped meet basic needs and create jobs but as we enter a new century, this unprecedented consumer appetite is undermining the natural systems we all depend on, and making it even harder for the world’s poor to meet their basic needs”.
China is a great example of changing realities. Only 25 years ago there were almost no private cars and cities were crowded with bicycles. By 2000, 5 million cars moved people and goods; the number was expected to reach 24 million by the end of 2005 year. In the US, there are more cars on the roads than licensed drivers. Some argue that consumerism cannot delete or destroy society. Many believe that consumerism will benefit the economy. As we see, it will indeed keep the game going but let’s look at what cost.
Consumerism appears to be very sick in terms of human rights. An average Nicaraguan peasant sells a hundred-pound bag of coffee beans for $2. Now let’s think how much coffee can we buy for $2? Those people eat 2 times a day – mostly corn bread and sometimes coffee made of spoiled beans that can’t be sold. Where do the money go you may ask? To the transnational company’s chief financial officer, who is in an urgent need of a new yacht. And it’s not only in the third world. The more consumerism spreads, the weaker is the incentive to manufacture long-lasting, quality products, and the more it is likely that cheaply made products will instead be imported from the lowest-wage, environmentally unregulated overseas manufacturer.
In conclusion, consumerism is a delicate and thought-provoking controversial topic. One can find a range of positive and negative sides of this phenomenon. To sum up, there is no right or wrong about consumerism. It depends where are we going to put our perspective. Generally, consumerism needs to be stopped due to an unbalance between human’s mind and their desire. Because of negative aspects of consumerism such as overspending, overworking, social and economic problems etc. Although some argue that it is a friend, actually in real life it is impossible to support that argument since consumerism triggers the unfullling nature of human and it is not desirable or beneficial in the long run. Consumerism is just a foe which makes you a victim with empty promises. To avoid this situation people should decrease the time they spend in front of the TV, use no credit cards, stop buying unnecessary products and try to make logical, consciously decisions while purchasing (Schor, Juliet). If people take these suggestions into account, they can reach a good life without these tricky systems. It should not be forgotten that spending less makes people feel better. Nevertheless, if we look from the design perspective, there is nothing wrong with consumerism. In fact, because of design, consumerism is being boost. It is our decision to control how far the consumerism need to be control and use from other point of view so that it would not cause self-destructing for human being. It is now our decision to be shaped by the consumerism or we shaped our own lifestyle.
In the end, I think that, today’s society has a big problem when it comes to consumerism because our younger generation doesn’t know when to stop or what’s too much. Many people should take into consideration that buying to many things doesn’t make you t in or make you any better than the next person who only has 3 pairs of shoes, society should take a little bit of more responsibility and take into count that our wants are not as important as our needs.
Mayell, H. “As Consumerism Spreads, Earth Suffers, Study Says.” National Geographic News.<http://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2004/01/0111_040112_consumerism.html>
Miles, S. Consumerism: As a Way of Life. SAGE, 1998.
Veblen, T. The Theory of the Leisure Class: An Economic Study of Institutions. Macmillan, 1915.
Globalissues.org. (2018). Consumption and Consumerism — Global Issues. online Available at: http://www.globalissues.org/issue/235/consumption-and-consumerism Accessed 5 Nov. 2018.
Mayell, H. (2004). As Consumerism Spreads, Earth Suffers, Study Says. online nationalgeographic.com. Available at: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/environment/2004/01/consumerism-earth-suffers/ Accessed 5 Nov. 2018.
Science | AAAS. (2018). Here’s how much plastic enters the ocean each year. online Available at: http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2015/02/here-s-how-much-plastic-enters-ocean-each-year Accessed 5 Nov. 2018.
Schor, Juliet. “Juliet Schor on The Overspent American.” TIME.com. N.p., 20 May 1998. Web. ; http://www.nytimes.com/books/rst/s/schor-overspent.html;