Entry 5: Response to "Consumerism versus Consumption"

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Hi all:

This article is by Zygmunt Bauman.  I have never had any heroes (except maybe for Micky Mantle and Bob Dylan).  But now Bauman is my hero, not so much for what he has to say about consumer society, but because he is still saying lively, interesting stuff at 85 years of age.  I can only hope my brain works as well as his at 85.

He is an acute observer of the consumer society; in this long-ish piece he distinguishes the act of consumption from the consumer society and begins to discuss the psychological implications of the latter for the life we now live.

You have to take time with his writing.  It's not fast food; you can't just swallow it down on the go.  You have to sit down and chew a little.

Again, as with previous posts to the blog, pick an interesting quotation, type it in, and write a few lines about why you picked it.  Or try to paraphrase his line of thinking.  You can of course include a quotation in this too.


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"Sentiments of happiness or its absence derive from hopes and expectations, as well as from learned habits, and these are all bound to differ from one social setting to another"(Page 43)

I like this quote because it's saying that you can't measure a persons happiness with regards to someone else's because we all have different viewpoints and life perspectives. Let's say one person is ecstatic over a hamburger, whereas another person who eats hamburgers regularly just thinks of it as food and is therefore neither happy nor unhappy by the hamburger. "The concepts both of 'happiness' and 'unhappiness' signal a distance between reality as it is, and a reality wished for." This article presents the fact that you cannot compare society's happiness today with the society of the pre-industrial age because they are both completely different. Today's society was raised with consumerism surrounding us, so we see it as a daily phenomena that is natural to us and therefore find solace in purchasing pointless goods. People back in the day would look at us and think we are wasteful because they only bought necessities and were content with their lifestyle (and most of us would think that is a "poor" way of living).

"The main attraction of shopping life is the offer of plentiful new starts and resurrections (chances of being 'born again')." (55)

I thought this quote matched other quotes' ideas that I wrote for the blog posts. For the idea of consumption, people believe that consuming for your wants will relieve the soul. For myself, as a girl, shopping is a ritual for me when I'm feeling blue. I take shopping as a day to myself where I buy clothes, accessories, shoes, and go out to eat with friends. Although I'm spending money, I feel better about myself because buying into the new styles and fads creates "a resurrection" of one's self-worth. Consumption of a "brand new" item in stock creates a temporary happiness when being entertained by an item.

"Indeed, if reduced to its archetypical form of the metabolic cycle of ingesting, digesting and excreting, consumption is a permanent and irremovable condition and aspect of life." This quote makes me wonder, is there any possibility/conceivable way around consumption, or the very least it taking over our lives? Consumption and consumerism are really beginning to bother me more and more, is it really that dominant in our lives? Sadly, yes. The point is that it exists not because we need things, but because people absolutely want to fulfill there "wants". What if we lived in a world where people bought only necessities, nothing to flashy, but our items would not be shabby either. It would be amazing to see all the money we would be wasting on what we wanted at the moment, and use it for finding cures to diseases and helping people in third world countries. How great would this world be if society lived that way? People could allow other aspects of life to define there happiness, not just by the "things" people acquire. Consumerism does attribute to a society, but it should not be the main idea leading countries, let alone the people themselves.

"But even the lucky few that manage to find or conjure up a need, desire or wish for those gratification they might demonstate themselves to become relevant...soon tend to succumb to the pressure of further 'new and improved' products...well before their working capacity has come to its preordained end" (50, 38).

I chose this quote because it really resembles the way I view our society. People tend to replace items that do not need to be replaced. People hardly ever use something to its full capacity and we just throw it away when we are done with it. One of the biggest items that this is done with are cell phones. Cell phones are constantly being bought and thrown away or put on a drawer and forgotten about untill a desperate situation where we have no phone at all. We no longer pride oueselves in how long we can make something last but in how fast we can get something new. We are willing to get rid of something that is sufficient for someting that is new and improved. An example of this is the iphone. Apple comes out with a new updated version of the iphone reletively quickly and everytime they do there is a mile long line outside of their store just to go pick it up. People are so obssessed with getting something new and improved that they are willing to pre-order it 2 weeks before picking it up and waiting in line for hours when it comes time to actually go get it from the store. This whole process happens because we cannot resist the temptation to replace our working stuff with "better" stuff.

"An instability of desires and an insatiability of needs, and the resulting proclivity for instant consumption and the instant disposal of its objects, chimes well with the new liquidity of the setting in which life pursuits have been inscribed and are bound to be conducted in the foreseeable future"(46).

Basically this quote establishes the fact that we have noticed how our wants are lined up with a companies ability to produce new products "foreseeably". It is not that we have been tricked into buying new products every so often, but that we have found it as a way of life. Our wants are "[un]stable" and our needs are impossible to satisfy. Instead of focusing about what would make us happy we find that the thrill of chasing and trying to purchase new goods MAY make content us. This reminds me of a time in my childhood where my brother and I were constantly buying newer models of a hand-held gaming device. We went through at least 5 models until we grew out of it and realized that the one we have is perfectly fine. That was 5 years of buying expensive goods, especially for just playing games. (Since there were two of us we got two of each device.) This is part of our culture, and even though I am fully aware of the fact that we all continue to consume.. I can't stop! Although we have the information to prevent further purchases for no reason, we continue to buy and buy. Our community has been sucked into an eternal flame of consuming. This is the way our nations are able to continue running, and this is why our communities are able to live an everyday life. Consumerism is a huge part of our life style and if it goes missing, well our nation will fall apart. Every well-oiled machine needs its oil.

"Most valuables rapidly lose their lustre and attraction, and if there is procrastination they may well become fit solely for the rubbish tip even before they have been enjoyed" (46)

I chose this quote because I think it very accurately describes most of the products that are out today. Most of the products that are out today seem hip and "in" for one year, and are "out" the next. I also chose this quote because it reminded me of when I got my first scooter. I remember begging my mom for it because I saw it on the television and thought it was the greatest invention ever. My parents bought me the deluxe "Razor 2000" scooter with flashing lights and a wheelie bar in the back. I rode it around for two weeks and after a short while the wheelie bar became a bother by always hitting my leg and the lights in the wheels after two weeks started to die out. After a month of having the scooter I resorted back to using my skateboard, I was fooled by the television. I related to the first half of the quote with my own personal experiences because the scooter that I thought was the greatest invention ever rapidly lost its "lustre and attraction".

"It is precisely the non-satisfaction of desires, and the unshakeable, constantly renewed and reinforced conviction that each successive attempt at their satisfaction has wholly or partly failed, leaves much to be desired and could be better than it was, that are the genuine flywheels of the consumer-targeted economy." (54)
This quote is very interesting to me because it addresses satisfaction, desire and want. the quote is saying that the backbone of society is to never really be satisfied. Every time we fail at satisfying ourselves, this is good for business. These businesses want us to remain unhappy and be unsatisfied with ourselves and have unfulfilled desires to fuel our economy. A consumer culture revolves around the general population being unable to satiate their desires. It's very interesting to me the way the author presents this fact. The way it is stated is very powerful to me, that "precisely the non-satisfaction of desires" states that it is imperative and essential that we let ourselves down and remain unsatisfied for our society to run. This quote screams that we must have infinite and unfulfilled desires at all times.

"As the trial proceeds, contrary evidence accumulates, proving, or at least strongly suggesting, that in opposition to the plaintiff's argument, a consumption-oriented economy actively promotes disaffection, saps confidence and deepens the sentiment of insecurity, becoming itself a source of the ambient fear it permises to cure or disperse - the fear that saturates liquid modern life and the principal cause of the liquid modern variety of unhappiness." I picked this quote because it is true with society today. All the advertisements placed everywhere claiming to help improve how people look and feel better do the opposite. People begin to think they are flawed and that everyone is always paying attention to what they do. Which isn't true, we aren't as important to strangers as we think we are. With these ideas in their head, they go out and buy everything they can to "improve" themselves. People will never be satisfied and the cycle will continue. People continue to consume and become unhappier. The newer generation seems to be much more insecure than those before it. Even with products that aren't for self-improvement, people are still left insecure. For example, most teenagers as of now own iPhones. When someone doesn't, they are ostracized to some point. People are hit by the effects of consumerism in many different ways.

"Unlike consumption, primarily a trait and occupation of individual human beings, consumerism is an attribute of society" (45). This quote really compared the main difference between consumption and consumerism. Although they are quite similar, there is a distinct difference. Consumption is a natural part of life and is vital for human survival. However, consumerism is not a necessity of life, but rather about the things we desire. It mainly focuses on luxuries and all the fads we buy in to everyday. I found it quite interesting how consumerism was referred to as an attribute of society. It illustrates just how influencing and affected we are by society. We are always looking to fit in and tend to follow what others do in order to gain acceptance. Consumption is a life necessity, but consumerism is truly just about the luxuries.

"Consumer society thrives as long as it manages to render the non-satisfaction of its members (and so, in its own terms, their unhappiness) perpetual. The explicit method of achieving such an effect is to denigrate and devalue consumer products shortly after they have been hyped into the universe of the consumers' desires." (pg. 54) This quote points out how the consumer society manipulates people into a never ending cycle of consumption. The consumer society survives solely because consumers are never fully satisfied. Material objects gain popularity almost as quickly as they lose it and then the consumer is left already yearning for the new gadget on the market. Products don't retain "hype" or monetary value for more than a short period of time after which things get tossed out only to make room for the hot new commodity. This waste cycle secures that the consumer society will only continue to monumentally thrive.

"An instability of desires and insatiability of needs, and the resulting proclivity for instant consumption and the instant disposal of its objects, chimes well with the new liquidity of the setting in which life pursuits have been inscribed and are bound to be conducted in the forseeable future" (46, 31).

I liked this quote because with the use of sophisticated words, he managed to describe our consumer culture in a very simple way. This basically summed up how we really really wants the things we don't need, but get in anyways. Then we throw away the "wants" that we get bored of and continue consuming them. According to the beginning of the text, there was a point in our lives when all we consumed were the necessities rather than the materialistic desires of today's society. Back then, they consumed more for long term living rather than buying toys, being bored of them, and then throwing them away. As for the second half of this quote, I wasn't too sure of what was going on, but the basic idea seems to foreshadow what the future will be like; basically, our consumer society is continually going to seek unneeded items in order to satisfy our living adventure.

“In that era, large volumes of spacious, heavy, stolid and immovable possessions augured a secure future, a future promising a constant supply of personal comfort, power, and esteem.” (45) I find this quote interesting and oddly funny. People felt like having big objects like furniture or cars will give them more power and feel secure about themselves and their life. It’s strange if we think about it. They say money is power and time is of the essence. However, people use all their time to consume so many objects that used up so much of their money just to boost their self-esteem and that so called “power.” Over the years, we slowly stop needing so much of human contact and now we’re so dependent on technology that we don’t realize we have drifted from the world where humans actually connect. We rely on inanimate objects to keep us happy and safe. And somehow we forget about the difference between wanting and needing. We trick ourselves into thinking that we need a certain product because we think that we believe that it will make us happy. For example, large flat screen TVs used to be a luxury. A product that was only meant for people who could afford it eventually turned into something that everyone thought they needed. Now in every home that we step in, if there isn’t a flat screen TV that person must be living miserably. TVs has become a personal comfort, helping our self-esteem, and giving us power from the own comfort of our home.

“Accordingly, in a society of consumers the pursuit of happiness- the purpose most often invoked and used as a bait in marketing campaigns aimed at boosting consumers’ willingness to part with their money- tends to be refocused from making things or the appropriation to their disposal-just what is needed if the gross national product is to grow” (49).I chose this quote because it shows how marketing campaigns do a very good job at enticing the consumer to buy their products by guaranteeing them happiness and satisfaction after buying their goods. What I found astonishing was how these markets continue to make their products thrive. They depend on the disposal of their products, while they come up with new, refreshing products that are granted to work ten times better than their previous item. This idea of products being made only to be disposed in the end is seen everywhere. For example, new music comes out frequently because people become bored and tired of hearing the same song. An artist disposes of their old music and comes up with new music in order to keep people interested enough to buy their album. It is crazy to think that the quality of a product is not the main concern, nowadays how soon the product will be disposed of in order for them to buy more products is of more importance.

"Here the tools that failed are to be abandoned rather than sharpened and applied again with greater skill, more dedication and so hopefully a better effect."

America transformed from a society centered around a life of stability and durability into a hurried, pointillist life. Producers don't try to create lasting and durable products, they instead strive to produce items that will break down. Consumers will flock back to the store and buy a new one, thus increasing profits for the producers. Americans now have a hurried lifestyle, where time is of the essence. When something doesn't work, instead of taking time to fix it, we dispose of it and go to the store to a buy a new one. There has now been a shift from the joy of new things to the enjoyment of discarding things. The urge to discard things starts an endless cycle of consumerism. People buy products designed to break down at some point, discard the items, and shop again. Even the idea of stability and durability has been discarded for a new and improved lifestyle. Our realities are a set of discontinous points which make up our existence. There is no flow. We are living a "nowist" lifestyle, rushing to and fro needing to discard and replace.

"The concepts both of 'happiness' and 'unhappiness' signal a distance between reality as it is, and a reality wished for." (Bauman 42) He previously states how happiness is something people only hope to have, or the desire. Unhappiness, on the other hand, is what they currently want to avoid. This means people cannot compare who is happier because everyone has their own perspective on happiness. People who lived in poor backgrounds who want a car cannot be compared to the people in another time who would be happy with clean water alone when they did not have cars. If we had to live in the 1800s now, I am sure most of us would be unhappy because we would not be satisfied with our current lifestyle, knowing there is more Humans will always want more than what they already have. It is in their nature. They will always strive for happiness. Those desires are defined by how bad their suffering is. As people become too rich, their wealth cannot buy happiness. Consumption cannot satisfy their wants. Therefore, people do not always need consume to feel happy. In America, consuming is apart of our daily lifestyle. It makes us happy when we have money because we can buy. America, as a consumer society will always desire more. This makes people more egotistic and self-centered.

"Unlike consumption, primarily a trait and occupation of individual human beings, consumerism is an attribute of society." (45) I found this quote relevant because it ties into the consumerist revolution. Obviously, humans have desires. They are part of our nature; we can't help it. We think that by purchasing and buying into all the advertisements through the media, we will attain happiness. It is a pursuit that seems to be never-ending, since there is always going to be a new product released into the market.

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About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by Nick Tingle published on December 7, 2012 11:29 AM.

Entry 4: "Why The Self Is Empty" was the previous entry in this blog.

Entry 6: "What Is Wrong with Happiness?" is the next entry in this blog.

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