Consumerism has been changing our world for the past 300 years, but its recent surge has led to more and more stuff being bought than ever before! We use the words consumerism, mass-consumption, mass-production and overconsumption ever more often throughout our daily routine because this trend has not only manipulated our behaviour and affected local businesses, but it has damaged our environment to an immeasurable extent. We are living in a world in which some countries consume more than they can handle while the vast majority is barely clinging onto existence.
According to Wikipedia “the word consumerism defines a social and economic order that encourages the acquisition of goods and services in ever-increasing amounts.” This means that a consumer, especially an over-consumer, believes that gathering and buying stuff will bring them happiness. Precisely this misassumption is what drives globalization and is the root of the underlying problem – spending money on more than one can ever use or eat.
This trend started in the late 1600s in Europe when capitalism began settling in Europe, North America and some other parts from the rest of the world and became the dominant economic system. The Industrial Revolution and the Age of Imperialism were two of the major events that kicked things into gear for this development.
As Europe was colonizing many other countries during said Age of Imperialism, Europeans amassed huge amounts of raw materials which were then used to power factories that produced consumer goods or were directly sold to large markets. For instance, tobacco and sugar plantations transported their product back to Europe, where the resources were used to produce other goods.
During the Industrialization, thousands of factories and mines popped up which, because of the development of new machines, were able to mass-produce countless amounts of products. These goods were more or less identical, cheap and available in breathtaking quantities – great opportunity for consumerism, don’t you think? Moreover, the Industrial Revolution brought some socialist values to the table. This development allowed for the financially struggling working class to evolve into a strong middle class that was now capable of buying more luxury goods, which in return further boosted consumption rates.
Others consider the mid-1900s to be “The golden age of consumerism“ as marketing, and advertising of goods by large-scale corporations to sell their products to a large audience, became popular and much more sophisticated. This tool is still the stronghold of corporations nowadays and is more powerful than ever, as new techniques and systems for manipulation of consumers into overspending emerge constantly.
Do you remember the last advertisement you saw? Maybe, you might even be looking at one right now, look to the left, to the right, do you see any pop-up ads? Whether you do or not, one thing is certain – most likely in two minutes you will not remember what you saw. Now, one might ask themselves why companies would go to such lengths to advertise a product using commercials that will be forgotten in moments. Well, let me explain: in addition to the flashy and going to extreme advertisements we might notice while watching a YouTube video or when driving by a billboard, there are these “creeping background ads“. The said ads are used to burn an image, a slogan, or an idea into your mind without you even noticing. Take Nike’s ads for example – many of them are not extraordinary but you sure remember their logo and their slogan „Just do it“, don’t you? These are many techniques that are used to lure you into buying a product, as marketing has developed into a highly-profitable science, that corporations are spending billions on and the end of this development is not in sight.
These techniques of bombarding with offers in social media and the internet, sales and invented “festive occasions” like Black Friday, are clearly doing wonders because mass-consumption is at its peak. Actually, it is working far too well on some people – there are extreme over-consumers addicted to shopping. Instead of taking the cheaper pair of shoes they go to the reduced, but still more expensive pair. Instead of thinking about a purchase they buy the object on impulse; instead of ignoring the pop-up ad they visit the website and buy two T-Shirts just in case or “you never know, I might need one”. They use shopping as a coping mechanism to deal with internal drama, stress (we even invented terms like “shopping therapy”) or buy stuff because of peer-pressure, just because everyone else has it. These people are the dream customers for advertising companies, and as more and more people discover over-consumption as their hobby, business is booming.
This mass-consumption spiral, which the world has been in for the past decades, has been beneficial for corporations, globalization and the lowering of prices, but more importantly, it has taken its toll on the environment and many other areas: single-use goods, throwaway fashion and short-lasting products contribute to climate change, the popularity of land-fills and the extreme pollution of oceans and nature. We are masters of messing up the world.
However, we are not only harming the planet but inflicting harm on ourselves. You don’t believe me? Well, how much is your net-worth? You don’t know what that is? How many assets, how much money do you have and how much debt? You don’t know that either? That is exactly the goal of financial institutions – to make it as easy as possible to spend money by using credit cards, online banking and your phone as a payment method. However, they make it hard for you to track your expenses which causes you to go into debt, which in turn brings money to banks and corporations. Nowadays, it is almost impossible to live without debts, or that is what you are made to believe – how are you supposed to resist all the advertisements, everything is so cheap, there is so much to choose from, right? “Half price, half price, half price” – you hear people parroting in shops. Like drugged baboons. No doubt resisting spending on rubbish is a challenge, but it is definitely possible.
Take minimalists for example – they only buy and keep things that bring them joy and they get rid of all other possessions. Now, you don’t have to take this principle to an extreme, but consider whether you need the thing you are holding before buying it, eat before going to the supermarket, avoid fast-fashion, buy second-hand, lend and borrow things, use services like car-sharing and avoid sales, Amazon offers and credit card companies. It sounds like a cliché, but think of the children that have nothing to eat, nothing to drink, have to sleep outside and wear the same clothes for years on end. And now look at your fridge, your wardrobe and your closet. Notice anything? They are stuffed! Everyone can take action and help close the gap between rich and poor, reduce waste and minimize consumption to a reasonable level, but will they? Well, that is up to everyone to decide. Overcoming egocentrism is not everyone’s thing.
-Text By Steve Nick
Also read: Will the Future of Money be Called Bitcoin