Monday, June 11, 2007

Sher Value: Consumption and Consumerism

I am amazed at the consumerism that surrounds us, in a sense its pervading and encroaching, sometimes resulting in consumption to excess and at others shaping our unique and personal definitions of luxury. Buying a car is as much a necessity as it can end up being a luxury, the difference being the price tag. In contrast buying a number plate for Dh 1.5 million (US$360,000) to put on a car that cost one third of that sort of stretches consumerism to absurd luxury; no different than the fellow who paid US$ 40 million for a 8,000 sq foot apartment in New York. This is where you do not take your cost accountants because they will either jump from the apartment terrace or let the car with the expensive number plate run them over before they can figure out what the whole deal was about.

Expanded onto the global matrix consumption and consumerism are becoming perhaps the crucial linchpins in defining our relationship with our environment over the next century. How are the products we consume produced and how is their production effecting the environment? Who influences our choices of consumerism? What is the role of free choice as opposed to engineered choice (advertising)? Who influences what is produced and how is it produced? Where does necessity stop and luxury begin? How do our material values influence our relationships with other people? How do poorer and wealthier nations adjust their needs and demands in the context of consumerism? Is there going to be a point at which the world will stop and realize that the resource footprint needed to sustain our growth consumerism is just not sufficient?

In that rather benign paragraph are questions that perhaps we need to pin next to our computer screen. These are the questions that will compel us and haunt us over the next few decades because in those moments we will be making decisions that will shape the way the world will be. While there is a tendency to blame over population as the cause of pressure on the resources this is not entirely true as the impact of wanton consumerism is also taking a heavy toll of the resource base.

The impact of this consumerism on the way our children are being brought up is frightening. There is a specific marketing slant that is added in today's marketing that targets the children early enough to convert them into the consumerist mentality. The kids market is huge and products and foods geared only for kids is evidence of this. Consumerism has reached a level where on the one hand obesity is as urgent and issue as tackling global poverty is an issue. Isn't that strange that in this day and age we can take one excess and one deprivation and at both ends of the spectrum have a major problem.

It is time that our global priorities are looked at in a refreshing way. We need to reassess what is essential and what is wasteful, and while some may harness the aid band wagon as a means of redressing necessary and urgent care in continents like Africa, the more important change has to come in structural building blocks being created and inefficiencies removed. However, underlying any attempt to fix what is wrong has to be our approach to consumption and consumerism, without changing that we are caught in a trap where only we are tightening the noose around our own necks.

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