How our “perfect world” of consumerism is damaging our livelihoods
The United States is one of the world’s leaders in global consumption. Currently, there are over 300 million people in the United States, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Each person is a walking vessel of consumption. We consume massive quantities of goods every single day. Everywhere we turn, we are bombarded by advertisements. Whether it’s watching television, flipping through a magazine, or even waiting at a bus stop, we are trapped in an inescapable prison of consumerist propaganda. But besides the obvious toll on our wallets, just how much of a price are we really paying to keep up in our material world?
The amount of products available to us is seemingly unlimited, and companies spend millions of dollars each year on advertisements directed toward children. Kids absorb everything like sponges, so if the consumerism ideal is embedded into their conscious deep enough when they are young, they can continue to grow and buy with the mentality of super consumers.
“We are trained from a very young age to be super consumers,” James Rothenburg, an associate professor of sociology at Ithaca College, said. “Advertising is aimed at kids — very young children — partly to get them to go home and nag their parents to buy things, [and] partly to get them in the mindset that having things is going to make them happy.”
Instead of achieving our own sense of well being, we have become completely dependent on products for the fulfillment of our own happiness. From our childhoods, we allow ourselves to only strive for and achieve instant gratification instead of emphasizing hard work and discipline to reach stronger, more fulfilling goals. Due to this mentality of “got to have it now,” people end up consuming things that they either don’t need or are not good for them, Rothenburg said.
One of the main sources for instant gratification is food. If you turn on the television or walk down an aisle in any supermarket, you are surrounded by advertisements and assortments of processed and packaged foods. According to Dr. David Ludwig in an article for CBS News Healthwatch, billions of dollars each year are spent on fast food advertising, especially those that cater to young children. If you look at most of these advertisements and packages, most of them are loud, bright and colorful to capture the attention of kids. Also in the article, Ludwig cited a study in the January 2009 issue of Pediatrics that found the amount of consumption of processed and fast food to have increased dramatically — about five times the amount since 1970.
Through our consumption of highly processed foods, we are witnessing a huge rise in childhood obesity, and diabetes and heart disease in older adults. But besides the physical implications, excessive consumerism has also impacted us mentally.
“[Advertisements] play on the basic fundamentals of human needs: the need to be loved, and to belong, to be part of a community, to feel competent at things,” Rothenburg said.
But what kind of an impact does this materialistic mindset seem to be having on the consumerist public if our happiness and self-worth only seem to be measured by how many things we buy? In his book Surviving America’s Depression Epidemic: How to Find Morale, Energy, and Community in a World Gone Crazy, the clinical psychologist Bruce E. Levine compares the rise in depression among the American public to our excessive consuming of products — especially technological products.
Levine writes: “Technology is all about control, and the more we Americans singularly worship technology, the more we singularly worship control … Human beings pay a psychological price for any technology that controls them more than they control it; they can actually feel more powerless. And the feeling of powerlessness is highly associated with depression.”
Our materialism is rooted in shameless vanity; it creates a competitive desire for constant relevancy and superiority that keeps us coming out in droves to wait in five-hour lines for the newest update. But in doing so, we are creating an atmosphere where our worth and standing in society is only based by how updated our iPad is.
We don’t connect on the basic human levels anymore; we connect and bond through our purchases, creating an overall sense of shallowness and superficiality. Without those fundamental human connections, we quickly begin to shrivel. Our minds and our bodies are telling us something about this lifestyle. I think it’s time we started listening.
Sydney Fusto is a freshman journalism major whose life was the inspiration for Confessions of a Shopaholic. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.