I am neither defined by the brand of jeans that I wear or by the number of cars that I own. Our consumer culture constantly bombards us with messages urging us to define ourselves through our possessions.
However, the consumer culture is not completely evil. It generates millions of jobs and stimulates the economy.
Products have been created that can enhance the quality of life for millions. Unfortunately, many of these products are not marketed to raise the quality of life, but are tied to status and image.
In 2006, over 8 billion solicitations for credit cards were sent out to U.S. consumers. The message is clear: spend more!
This has resulted in a significant increase in credit card use in the last decade, and subsequently, an increase in consumer debt. With the “buy now, pay later” message, consumers are lured into purchasing status goods of uncertain real value with hopes of attaining the materialistic American Dream.
There are other social factors which have contributed to an increasingly consumerist society. With shows such as MTV’s “Cribs” and “The Hills,” the extravagant lifestyles of the wealthy are being delivered into the homes of every American.
With the decline of cohesive communities and neighborhoods, the new reference point for consumers may be the wealthy people seen on television as opposed to their neighbors, who are probably located within a similar income level.
Furthermore, with a greater distribution in income, Americans are aspiring to live similar lifestyles to those several rungs higher on the income ladder than them.
It simply is not possible for anyone in the lower or middle class to live a lifestyle similar to someone earning hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars. Living simply and comfortably is no longer in fashion – it seems as though everyone wants to live like a rock star.
This consumerist culture, if left untamed, will damage the Earth and deplete our resources tremendously. We are consuming resources and energy at an unprecedented rate, which generates more waste and greenhouse gases than ever before.
At the same time, millions of people are barely consuming enough to survive. Over consumption threatens the environment and populations of our planet.
Consumerism also has a psychological impact on people. When a society measures an individual’s importance by the amount of materials one possesses, those in poverty suffer.
Under that view, the poor are seen to be lazy and of no value to the community, which is far from the truth. Those in poverty are thus trapped in vicious consumerist competition.
In 1954, Brooks Stevens, an industrial designer, coined the phrase “planned obsolescence.” Planned obsolescence refers to a method of designing products to become obsolete after a certain period of time.
The idea is that after a product stops functioning, a consumer will purchase another if a functioning product is desired.
Aside from being unethical, this puts a burden on the consumer and the environment.
As consumers, we must not stand for the exploitative techniques of manufacturers. Communication between consumers regarding the durability of various products will prove crucial if we hope to curb our consumption patterns.
Once we begin to realize that more is not always better, we will begin to enjoy healthier and more complete lives. The future of our environment is at stake, but it is not too late to slow down the damage to our planet.
Shopping takes time away from family, friends, hobbies, health, community and achieving goals. It should be our goal to redefine the American Dream to be less materialistic and more concerned with health and happiness.