“Our Consumer Society” is an intense dive into consumerism as a concept and a state of being. It examines what consumerism means, what it looks like and how it affects every human being on Earth mentally, physically and economically. It also looks at how consumerism came to be, what motivates it, its history, and its philosophical, psychological, and sociological influences.
Every aspect of our world today is touched by consumerism, from where we live, what we eat, drink, wear, study, work and what we choose to entertain ourselves with like books, movies, music, the internet and more.
In its simplest definition, consumerism is society’s preoccupation with acquiring consumer goods or things, objects, clothes, memorabilia, houses, cars, jewelry and everything else under the sun. It is both a social ideology and action, encouraging consumption in a never-ending cycle, often even in excess of one’s basic needs.
The Latin word “consumere”, meaning “to use up, eat or waste”, is the root word of consumerism. And today, there is a lot of using up, eating up and wasting going on, with fast food, fast fashion, and fast trends. But it wasn’t always like this. Our consumer society began around the 15th century when trade between countries increased, and the Western world now had access to Eastern goods and vice versa.
The following 400 years would see significant manufacturing and industrial advances, producing more goods. Towards the end of the 19th century, consumerism was well on its way to being a major driving force in the world economy. The 20th century, particularly after World War II, introduced new technology and many new items for us to consume.
We as a society began to desire new things to fill our modern needs, contributing to the rise of marketing. Marketing is the science and art of promoting and selling products and services to a broader audience. Marketing influences us almost 24/7, so we want the things we see being used by other people because we feel that it will make us better or that we have achieved some goal.
However, consumption has major side effects that affect individuals and the planet. Extreme consumption of anything leads to addiction, and it also has a negative impact on our environment, from unhealthy labor practices, severe pollution and the loss of our natural resources.
Our mental health is also not spared. Focusing on our need to consume, we ignore all our other needs and even our values. We become unhappy and unsatisfied with our lives, jumping from trend to trend and looking for validation from objects instead of real connections, mainly because we might have lost sight of what we truly want.
But is it all grim? And is there a way to turn back from excessive consumption? Buying attitudes and behaviors need to be monitored, so people buy less. Pushing for a more sustainable and circular economy where people reuse and re-purpose will also help. And as long as we can find true meaning in what we consume will go a long way in solving this problem.