Is it just me, or does it seem like we’re all living in a society that drives us to consume as much as possible? I feel like everywhere I look there are advertisements and people trying to convince me to buy something. Now, to my readers this all might sound familiar – as in the past I’ve written about commercialism. But I want to take another look at it from a less political stance and kind of broaden the viewpoint a bit. I know it’s difficult to talk about anything to do with the nature of buying and selling without some political leanings showing through, but let’s see what we can come up with.
Society obviously has a lot of commercialist overtones these days, as I’ve ranted about before. But beyond the constant advertisements trying to persuade you to buy a new car every two years there’s an underlying tendency to consume that seems to be part of the American personality anymore. Be it the latest cars, newest technology, hottest fashions, or newest meals at the local fast-food place, there’s always something new and “improved” being thrown in our faces every day of the week. Now of course, companies wanting to stay in the game have to come out with new products to keep people’s attention, because in our era of never-ending technology there’s always something cheaper or more convenient that comes along. But when we consume all these new products and ideas, what happens to the old ones? The ones we were told were the best a mere six months ago. They’ve been consumed, now where do they go? Well, a lot of these things can be recycled, like plastics and paper products and whatnot. But what happens to the rest of this garbage that we no longer use that can’t simply be melted down and reused?
I’m sure we’ve all been driving through a secluded area or along a lone highway and seen a mattress or couch lying alongside the road. All those signs along the highway and country roads that say “no dumping” must be there for a reason, right? Well, when you drink a soda and toss the empty bottle into a recycling receptacle it gets collected and taken to a facility that can break it down into its base material and reuse that material to save on waste and taking up space. But what about things like those old mattresses, box springs, couches, chairs, computer monitors, and so on? All those “new” products we just saw commercials on TV for not too long ago are now “obsolete” and we need to toss them to make room for their “improved” versions, right? But a mattress isn’t made of a single base material that can be reused to make a brand new mattress. And a lot of times you can’t just put it out for the garbage because you’re local waste management company won’t pick up that kind of thing. So what do you do with it? It takes up space in the basement, you give it to someone who might be able to use it, they get sick of it, and it has nowhere to go. Sure, you can pay the extra money to have a specific carrier come pick it up, but who has time or money for that in today’s economy? Isn’t it just easier to put it in the back of a van or truck and toss it out alongside the highway when you’re driving home in the middle of the night at 90 MPH? Sure sounds a lot easier to me.
So now what do we have? Overflowing landfills, littered and polluted roads, and an ecosystem on the verge of collapse. Not to mention things like non-biodegradable containers that our brand new breakfast pancake chipotle taco melt was served in, electronics like MP3 players that have new releases every 15 seconds and are constantly filling junk drawers across the globe, and the archaic fossil fuels we burn in our brand new, 20 foot tall monster truck that we “need” in case we ever have to tow an aircraft carrier out of dry dock. We consume, consume, consume – and to what end? There are always going to be bigger, louder, faster, and greasier things we’re told we need that take the places and leave behind the carcasses of their predecessors. Doesn’t it only seem logical to assume that if we keep going along this path the things we consume and discard are going to surpass the natural resources we have with which to sustain such consumption? It probably sounds like hippy propaganda, but I’m not talking about glaciers and polar animals that the everyday person can’t see. Not to say that things like climate change shouldn’t be on our agenda, but it’s always easier to be concerned with things you see every day.
Am I saying we should all live like sages in the woods and not consume anything but what we need to sustain our bodies like the cavemen did? No. I’m just saying people should rethink how necessary it is to buy things that are made obsolete every time we blink an eye and that inevitably end up being someone else’s problem when we’ve discarded them. Companies don’t care where the byproducts of their wares go after we consume them. But if people would think twice before they consume everything put in front of them maybe the future would be a little brighter. Because when it comes down to it, how many people’s lives are really made better by being hyper-consumerist and dancing to the tunes of entities that view them as nothing but a potential sale?