Friday, November 23, 2012

Golden Arrow of Consumption

The fury over Black Friday and Cyber Monday has made me think of the Golden Arrow of Consumption in the materials economy so cleverly and concisely illustrated in The Story of Stuff. The sales encourage consumers to purchase more of what they don't need - or even really want - to participate in the ritual of shopping and to take advantage of the deal.

I saw some organizations asking people not to shop, but to spend time with friends and family on Friday. There is also the Buy Nothing Day campaign. I'm not sure those campaigns had the same momentum as the shopping weekend. I did find myself running to the grocery store on Thursday, before our dinner, to pick up some ingredients I'd forgotten earlier in the week. Though grateful my local store was open, I felt a significant amount of guilt that the workers were missing out on their families' celebrations for my convenience. I was also very cognizant of the strikes by Wal-Mart workers to raise awareness of their abysmal working conditions.

I myself was overwhelmed with hundreds of emails promoting sales from Thursday through Cyber Monday. Even though I know better, I found myself caught up in the mental trap: but if I don't buy it, I'm missing this great deal! I forgot to ask myself if I actually wanted the product advertised, not to mention if I needed it. (No, and no.)

Our frenzied shopping cannot bring us happiness. Even worse, laborers at home and abroad, animals, and the environment suffer from our consumer culture. A significant percentage of municipal solid waste comes from packaging (14 million tons of plastic packaging in the United States alone, according to the EPA).

I'm not saying that you shouldn't shop. I certainly am not saying I'm done with shopping. However, I resolve to be mindful about what I purchase. I hope you will, too. Please watch The Story of Stuff  so that you understand all that precedes and follows the act of consumption.

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