Friday, October 20, 2006

Born to Shop

Does it ever strike you that, from the first moments of social awareness, we are conditioned by our culture to want to acquire 'things'? Toys, at first. Then better and better toys. Equipment, stereos, cars, boats, houses, kitchen applicances.
Our consumer-driven society pushes us into a frenzy to try to buy as much 'stuff' as humanly possible and cram it into our living space and our lives - then buy MORE living space so we can cram even MORE stuff in.

Gandhi once said, "There is enough in the world for everyone's need but not everyone's greed." And along with the accelerated consumption of goods is the accelerated consumption of the worlds resources that it takes to create them.

"In the US, wood and paper thrown away each year is enough to heat 5 million homes for 200 years." Ruth Leger Sivard, World Military & Social Expenditure (World Priorities Inc, 1991)

I just heard that the cell phone industry expects to sell over a billion cell phones this year. a Billion. Every year. There are only six billion people on the whole planet! And many of them don't need or cannot use cell phones.

Our economy is now set up such that it NEEDS frantic, frenzied rampant consumerism in order to survive. If people don't keep buying cars at the rate of one every 5 years, then the automotive industry starts to disintegrate. There are not enough sales to keep the dealerships in business. Without those sales, the car manufacturers begin shutting down plants. When the plants shut down, the people that work in them lose their jobs, and therefore their income, and therefore THEY stop spending money, and so the businesses and industries that sell to them all begin to suffer and fail. The economy is like an ecosystem and when the money stops flowing, the ecosystem fails and things fall apart.

So yes, goods needs to be manufactured and sold. And people need to consume them so that they will buy more and so the whole chain of production keeps active.
But does it have to be SO pervasive? Does it have to be the solitary focus in most of our lives? From the teenager that MUST have specific brand-names on their clothing, to the middle-aged guy who must have a $25,000 Harley-Davidson motorcycle, or a $70,000 sports car, or a boat, or the woman who MUST have a $500,000 house, and MUST fill it with all the best furniture and it MUST be all the latest 'style' or else it's all suddenly useless and must be immediately replaced.
I only watch TV for perhaps 30 minutes per day because it's on while I'm eating dinner and I can see the screen from the kitchen eating area.
But anyone who watches TV for even 15 minutes can see the blatant advertisements just SCREAMING at you to buy their stuff. Whatever it is they are selling. You need it. You need LOTS of it. And you need it now.

And if you don't have enough money to buy it, you must go into debt to buy it. This beast needs to be FED!!

Does it ever just seem a little too much to you, as it does to me?

I mean don't get me wrong, I have accumulated a decent pile of things myself over the years, but I am NOT a shopper. I am not out there trying to constantly buy new gadgets and toys, or new cars, or a new plasma TV or whatever. If something we need breaks, I replace it.

But looking around me, it seems that most people are corraled into a pen and whipped up into a feeding frenzy to go out and just CONSUME. Consume at all costs. Consume until all the money they have saved is gone. Then consume until all the money they can earn is gone. Then keep consuming until all the money they can borrow is gone.

The TV is the deliverer of the message most of the time. It sends the blatant screaming messages, but also the subtle persuasive messages too. It fires on all fronts. They use every marketing and psychological trick they that dream up to get you to go to a store right NOW and put your credit card down and buy something.

Our society could have been based upon knowledge. Or art. Or literature. Or music. Or sports. Or travel. Or storytelling. Or legends. Or religion even. (many are). Or about war and politics and land acquisition (most civilizations of history were focused on this) Or about education. Or history and tradition. Or dance. Or just about anything. We could have made it all about science. About the search for extraterrestrial life. About the elimination of disease. Or maybe our imaginations could have been caught up in something trivial and unproductive like crossword puzzles, or video games.

But instead, we chose to make it based upon accelerated commercial consumerism. It's not even about money directly. If it were just money itself, then it could be all about finance and investing and options, and the international stock markets, and currency exchanges, and THAT would be what TV was advertising and what all conversations were about, and what people would spend all their spare time doing.

But instead we are driven to buy stuff. More stuff than we need or can use, or can afford, or can even easily store in our living space. Some people even have to rent extra storage space to store the stuff they have but cannot use.

Is it a terrible, cheap shallow thing? Or is it harmless? Is it a good way to spend our time and energy, do you think? Is it constructive?

What do you think about this consumer's life we lead? Do you enjoy it? Is it fulfilling for you? Is there a better way? Is there some other central theme that you think would be better for our society than this?


At 10/20/2006 9:38 AM, Blogger Igor said...

Our society could have been based upon knowledge. Or art. Or literature. Or music. Or sports. Or travel. Or storytelling....

... Or expanding into the Universe - going to Moon, Mars, and then setting up colonies throughout the Milky Way...

But, noooo, we are not going to spend our efforts and money on those lowly objectives, we'd be better off if we devote our lives to getting bigger and bigger houses to fill with ... things we don't actually use.

The National Association of Home Builders’ “showcase home” for 2005 is 5,950 sq. ft. That’s 15% bigger than last year’s model.

Since 1970s the size of the average new home has ballooned by 50 percent. What about the size of average new family ?

1 in 5 new homes is larger than 3,000 sq. ft.—the size at which it becomes unmanageable to clean without hired help. Guess why US needs all those poor mexicans?

At 10/20/2006 10:47 AM, Blogger Val Serrie said...

1) I like your thought of colonization of space! I wish I'd thought to list that one! Absolutely. Probably one of the best possible goals of a civilization.

2) Your comment about 1 in 5 homes being over 3000 sq ft seems wrong to me. Here in Texas where I live, almost all houses being built are larger than that. Most builders only have one or two models that are smaller than 3,000 sq ft. these days, and they don't sell very well. Older, retired couples that can't climb stairs and want something small to take care of buy those, mostly.
Judging by what I see driving around the suburban neighborhoods here in Dallas, I would guess that perhaps only 1 in 30 or 1 in 40 are under 3,000 sq ft, but I know there are other developments of smaller homes elsewhere, like in some southern parts of the city. So I would tend to believe the real number is closer to 1 in 10 are under 3,000 sq ft.
The typical size where I live (which is all new houses built in the last 3 years) is approximately 4,000 sq ft.

As for needing housekeepers, I guess some people have a service once per week, if both the husband and wife work full time, but most don't. A lot of wives here are at home full time, so they take care of the house themselves.

At 10/20/2006 7:15 PM, Blogger Igor said...

sorry, I forgot to show my source: here

Texas, ha! Biggest state, biggest cars (must have F150 or similar, eh? ;-), => biggest houses!

You are, of course, right about housecleaning. I just quoted the article.

Though, I admit, it's nice to have a big house just for me and my family, still ... it's difficult to go against what everyone around you considers to be "a must"...

note to myself: find data to compare NASA budget to what people spend on absolutely useless things like fashion for pets, etc...

At 10/20/2006 10:41 PM, Blogger merlyn the musician said...

Hey man, just tried to send you an email, but it bounced (see below) -Wassup?

- Clancy

Your message cannot be delivered to the following recipients:

Recipient address:
Reason: Remote SMTP server has rejected address
Diagnostic code: smtp;550 sorry, no mailbox here by that name (#5.1.1)
Remote system: dns; (TCP||57552||25) ( ESMTP)

At 10/20/2006 11:37 PM, Blogger Val Serrie said...

Hey John - long time!
Sorry about that but I cancelled that email address because of too much spam and viruses.

My new email address is

I just tried sending you 3 emails in answer to this and they all bounced from the email I have for you.

Send me another one to this address and we'll talk.


At 10/20/2006 11:50 PM, Blogger Val Serrie said...

3 things about the houses here:
1) I was talking only about new houses being built in the last couple years, not existing houses that have been in place 10 or 20 years, etc. In that case, sure there are plenty that are smaller than 3,000 sq ft. Older homes were usually smaller. Also, newer homes all seem to have much higher ceilings now. I think it's partly to allow the heat to rise up above people's head to keep it cool. Texas is a hot climate. Partly also because of style - it looks nicer.

2) Remember that homes here have no basements. So we have to have more square footage to compensate for the space you would get from a basement up north.

3) Also know that real estate is cheap here. 1/3rd the cost of where you are in Toronto. Here you can actually buy a pretty decent house for under 200K. 350K gets you 4250 sq ft brand new 5-bedroom 3-car garage, 25 ft high ceilings on main floor 12 ft ceilings on second floor, living room, greatroom/family room, gameroom, theater room, main floor study, main floor master suite, 4 more bedrooms upstairs, beautiful kitchen with all stainless steel applicances and granite counter tops, fireplace, etc. on a 100ft wide treed lot in a great area. You would pay much much more than 350K for that anywhere near Toronto, or Chicago, New York, Boston, San Fran, etc.
So yes - the new houses are big here, but they need to be because of no basements, and they can be because they are so much cheaper here.

At 10/23/2006 11:16 AM, Anonymous lauren said...

I was thinking about price differences around the country too. My boyfriend's mom has a house outside of Chicago with a pool/hottub inside the place. It's a pretty large, sprawling house too right on a golf course. That house cost about $300,000 LESS than what my dad's house was just on the market for a few months ago in NJ. And he has no pool at all lol. And it's not sprawling in the lease!

At 10/24/2006 10:44 AM, Blogger Igor said...

Val, do you have a feeling of the real estate bubble in your area?

Do people around you buy houses to live in or in hope to re-sell in a couple of years to pay back the loan and make some profit?

At 10/24/2006 9:55 PM, Blogger Val Serrie said...

Hi Igor,
The middle of the country did not have a real estate bubble like the east coast and west coast did.
What you heard about in Miami, and San Fran, and New York, etc. Did not happen here in Texas.
That's why our prices so cheap. The house I described is my own house and I paid even slightly less than that for it.
This same house anywhere near Toronto would probably be over a million dollars and I could never afford to live like this there.

Since the prices do not go up like that, there is no point for people to speculate on real estate as a pure investment. So people just buy houses to live in. People come here from California and are amazed at what they can buy for the money from their old house. They might have lived in some run-down small old house in San Francisco that they still sold for 1.2 million dollars, and to keep from paying capital gains tax, they buy one worth the same here.
But here, a 1.2 million dollar house is pretty spectacular.
The equivalent homes in Toronto would be like in Rosedale, or more like the Bridlepath (more modern like that). In Toronto, they are about 10 million dollars. Here, that's about what you get for 1 or 2 million. And there are plenty of houses like that here!

Personally, even if I could afford it, I just don't need a 15,000 or 20,000 sqft house. As it is, with only 4250 sqft, the electric bill for August was $505 because of the air conditioners running all the time. I can just imagine what it costs to keep one of those palaces cool in a hot Texas summer.
Not to mention taxes. Texas has no state income tax, which means the property taxes are high. Mine are over $9,000 per year. At that rate, one of those 2 million dollar homes would probably cost over $50,000 per year just for taxes alone!


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