By Sarah Madison Repollo | September 1, 2023
In the age of the internet, commodities and goods can be purchased at the single click of a finger. A 2-second clip is all people need to start reaching for their wallets. Only once they enter their card details do they realize, nabudol na sila.
Humans have been consumers for as long as history remembers. They “consume” clothes, food, shelter, and anything else they ever need or want. This begs the question of whether or not the concept of consumerism is beneficial in the long run.
Consumerism throughout history
Consumerism is the idea that spending money makes a person’s life better. It began with the Industrial Revolution—a time of economic prosperity, as people had acquired machines to mass produce products. Historians Neil McKendrick, John Brewer, and J H Plumb state in their book that the 18th century saw the “slow unleashing of acquisitive instincts” of humans. To acquire things was now possible for everyone, not just the rich.
To buy something as a person with low income or even a member of the emerging middle class back then, some convincing would be needed. You wouldn’t buy something without it appealing to you, right? Advertisements had the important job of enticing customers. Businesses began with verbal persuasion—and eventually, they shifted to posters, postcards, and even newspaper ads. These only fueled consumerism. The “I see, I buy” mentality took root here because people could see products all pampered up.
In recent years, social media has become the new focus of advertisements. Major streaming platform Youtube now features unskippable ads on their videos. Although infuriating to some degree, the ads are effective. In a survey conducted by Google, over 90 percent of participants found new products through these ads. Moreover, 40 percent purchased these goods solely because they saw them on screen.
People tend to choose the greener apple over the rotten one. If something is presented bow-wrapped and served on a silver platter, the insatiable urge to spend is great. Advertisers know that pretty things attract, and so consumption increases.
Even if we are attracted to certain items, why do we feel the need to spend money on these things? A psychologist by the name of Regan Gurung expounded on the main reason humans love to buy.
“At the heart of it all, stuff makes us feel good, and we all love feeling good—our natural addiction to feeling good can hence be easily satisfied by buying something,” he said.
The deadly combination of pretty things and being able to have them promotes materialism. Because of this, the population continues to consume.
Is it good?
We live in a capitalistic society—one where the purchasing of goods is what keeps the system afloat. So, is consumerism good? The answer is: It can be. In some ways, the concept is advantageous, with two top benefits.
Firstly, it keeps the economy running. The more products produced, the more jobs are available. Even the local economy benefits from consumerism. Take the recently concluded Hibalag season for example. Tourism increased— what with the alumni coming home and upstart businesses being given the chance to get their names out to a larger audience.
Secondly, consumerism promotes happiness and improves life quality. Perhaps you visited a new restaurant because it went viral online. On the chance that the food turns out to be good, you become happy. Happiness drives the brain to release dopamine—a feel good chemical. This directly affects memory, mood, and focus; and consumption can improve these things greatly.
Is it bad?
In some cases, yes. There are those who invest their life savings into products that make them feel good about themselves. What better way to raise your self-esteem than to spend money? When done in excess though, consumers fall deep into a rabbit hole, while sellers reap the rewards behind the scenes.
UNICEF reports that “if everyone were to consume resources at the rate at which people in Canada, Luxembourg, and the United States do, at least five Earths would be needed.”
Unfortunately, the world doesn’t have five Earths at our beck and call.
What can we do?
We are all perpetrators of overconsumption in the same way that we are victims of the “consumer mindset.” Changing our hard-set ways can be difficult, but not impossible. To be an ethical consumer, some tips may be essential.
Firstly, cut down on your purchases. When out shopping, think hard as to whether or not you need multiples of the same product.
Secondly, aim to thrift more. Your local ukay-ukay may not be as glamorous as the interiors of the likes of Zara, but there are countless items that are still good as new despite being discarded.
Lastly, support sustainability. Sustainability is broadly defined as meeting the wants of the present without compromising the needs of the future. Although a normal person is not responsible for the large carbon footprint created by companies, they can help combat consumerism in their own little way by supporting sustainable brands. As of 2023, household names such as Levi’s, Adidas, and Patagonia are actively recycling their used products. Investing in brands like these positively impacts the environment’s overall state.
So, what now?
Consumption is something all humans know well from birth. It starts with consuming bottled baby formula until a kid is old enough to pick out items on their own. In defense of the concept, materialists are not all they’re chalked up to be. While consumerism eggs on the purchase of empty things, it is the very same concept that allows humans to enjoy their lives to the fullest. The challenge now lies in how people choose to use their own money.
Sustainability is the key to keeping overconsumption in check. Many brands have made the shift to more sustainable production methods, and little by little, the world has consumed less. So long as people learn to live frugally, future generations will have more to look forward to. Although the “I See, I Buy” mindset has yet to be completely eradicated, personal sustainability is a sure start.