And so here I sit. In this library, at this school, in this town, in this state, in this country, in this boundless world. Typing diligently on my Macbook (Made In China). With quiet music streaming sinuously from my earbuds (also made in China) and my phone (you guessed it, from China) perched by my side alerting me ever so often with mindless notifications. And I just can’t help but feel like less of a human being these days when I’m surrounded by all of these possessions that I’ve come to love. I appreciate the convenience. I am grateful for technology, and for my family’s ability to provide me with these beautiful devices. These are the very things at the basis of my education, and my connections with the people that I love and miss the most in my life. And yet, I loathe them all. I type on my laptop and wonder if it was a man struggling to feed his family that compiled these keys together, or if it was a 10 year-old boy without the capability of getting an education. I listen to my music and wonder if the person that put my headphones together was tired and overworked that day, and simply wanted a break. I wonder if the person that made my phone has suicidal thoughts at night because of their monotonous, machine-like life. And as I sit there wondering, I feel a twinge in my heart and yet still a single conflicting voice in the depths of my mind ever so quietly whispers, “Shopping will take your mind off it.”
There are very few things that all people in this society have in common, perhaps one simply being humanity itself. But the second is being a consumer. A buyer, a customer, a user, a shopper. When dissecting the word itself, a consumer is “one who squanders and wastes” or “one who uses up goods” but really; we are the ones that are being consumed. Consumed by the materialistic possessions, consumed by all the items, and all the things. We’ve become overtaken by this incessant and compulsive need for more. Overtaken by this idea that enough will never be enough, and that there will always something better. This insatiable urgency falsely fills the gaps within ourselves, temporarily soothing us until the constant exposure to advertising drives us outside of our shells again and into some other product that will quell the emptiness for a moment more.
To some, advertising is the underlying root of our desolation. Constant reminders of our “flaws” and “imperfections” become powerful enough to coax and persuade a person into buying anything that will mask their humanity, choosing rather to embody a glorified ideal. An endless amount of companies supply us with the items necessary to meet that standard, and consumers simply pick the price they’re willing to pay to make their insecurities go away. Don’t get me wrong, consumerism isn’t necessarily a bad thing, buying and selling is good for any economy. But the problem lies in this simple fact: people have come to love things and use people instead of loving people and using things. In result, we turn to each other searching for “what you can do for me” as they would to an object. When in reality, as individuals we should all strive to impact each other in the most positive way possible, rather than expecting gains from all relationships. As a result of the media’s fabrications, a cycle is born and these false messages sent quickly turn into a daunting reality consisting only of objectification and materialistic downfalls.
Our perceptions, ethics and morals have been completely deformed by the contortionists of our society. Somehow we have all been mindlessly led into the false belief that the information fed to us by the media must hold validity and truthfulness. Because of this, in a sense we have been brainwashed into an instinctive driving need for products near and far; these are consumer demands. In 2005, political economist and author Robert Reich published an Op-Ed titled “Don’t Blame Wal-mart”. In it, he states that, “The easier it is for us to get great deals, the stronger the downward pressure on wages and benefits.” Inevitably as a result of our insistent nagging on industries to offer us cheap crap in conjunction with the competition between the companies themselves, somebody in the equation is going to get the short end of the stick. And we make damn sure it’s not us. But what hits home most for me is this statement that Reich makes: “The only way for the workers or citizens in us to trump the consumers in us is through laws and regulations that make our purchases a social choice as well as a personal one.” Did you read that correctly? The only way for me to make a consumer based decision that is considerate to people that are continuously treated unfairly is for me to be forced to. Because let’s be frank, if I want shoes and a bag, I narcissistically expect cheap prices so I can have them both instead of realistically paying for one item at a more expensive cost that guarantees a humane wage to the person who labored over it. How did this even happen?
And so there you sit. Perhaps in your house, in some city, in some state, in some country, but we both exist in this same boundless world. And whether you know it or not: whether you realize it or not, a war rages on inside of us all every single day. It’s a war of the self versus the world. Endlessly torn between serving oneself or serving others, doing what’s best for society or doing what’s right for the world, and feeling guilty for craving the possessions necessary to fit in whilst simultaneously yearning to stand out. This very controversy is one that has barely been explored for many, and is brushed aside every day when we stand numbly before an array of products without any knowledge of where they came from and the means by which they were made. We are all numb because we are afraid of the future. But each time that we shelter ourselves from the truth behind the objects we erroneously cherish, we come another time closer to the moment in which that truth will be forced upon us whether we want it to be or not.