Friday, October 24, 2008

We are (more than) what we Buy

I want, I need, I get.

That's the focus of society today. Without the latest "thing" we are effectively left behind in the societal race. We are never satisfied with the "stuff" that we have, so that's what we want: More stuff. I doubt I could go more than one day without buying something, and even that one day is a little hard. Buying nothing means no coffee, no fast food, no bus tokens. Difficult, but it can be done. In fact, on Friday, November 28, 2008, it is Buy Nothing Day.

This is the day after American Thanksgiving, which is traditionally the busiest shopping day of the year. Many argue that one day of not buying anything won't make a difference to the alarming over consumption practiced routinely in North America today. They're right, it doesn't make much of a difference. However, adbusters, who started the day said ""isn't just about changing your habits for one day" but "about starting a lasting lifestyle commitment to consuming less and producing less waste."

But what makes a change in consuming habits really necessary? I mean, what makes our consumerism so bad? Well maybe you'll see the necessity for a day to buy nothing by watching this youtube video.

We are told to buy things all the time, whether from commercials by companies wanting to make money, or by politicians who tell us it will help the economy. In fact, it is the over consumption practiced in North America that leads to an excess of waste, and a lack of focus on the things that really matter.

Firstly, if there is such a dependence on money and what one can buy in society, there is a class division that increases between the haves and have nots. Suddenly people who can afford to buy all the latest products is somehow better than those who cannot. It is almost impossible to break out of this cycle, because the majority of people will only listen to those with power, and in a society of consumption, those who have the power also have the money.

"they come from a small section of the bourgeoisie itself, from a minority group of artists and intellectuals, without public other than the class which they contest, and who remain dependent on its money in order to express themselves." (Barthes, 139)

The only way to fight against our tendency to buy much more than we need for no good reason is to recognize our dependence on our possessions, and make a constant effort to buy less. So next time you're really tempted to buy that latest cell phone even though you have one that works perfectly fine, or that new iPod just because everyone else has one, it's important to ask yourself one simple question. Do I really need that? Why do I need that. If you realize that you have no good reason, maybe it's better not to buy.

Those who often have the most need for such basic things such as food, shelter, and medication, are often those who consume the least. "those who most need the mass produced goods- and this includes food, medicine, and clothing - do not have the means to purchase the very items they often make." (Franklin, 162) It is very telling that the places that have the most need for necessities, such as India, South America, and Africa, consume the least. While here, in North America, we need the least, yet we consume the most

So no, you do not need whatever that latest thing you saw on TV is. In fact, if you think of it, very little of what you have you actually need. Would anybody actually die without their laptop? They wouldn't die, they just might be a little upset. Buy nothing day is to give us some perspective about the amount of consumerism that we do, and how damaging it could be. If we go for a day without relying on our dependence consuming, maybe we could go two or three, or even cut down on our consumption on a daily basis. We are more than what we buy.

You can never get enough of what you don't need to make you happy. ~Eric Hoffer

Works Cited

"Buy Nothing Day." Wikipedia. 24 Oct 2008

"Buy Nothing Day." Adbusters. Adbusters. 24 Oct 2008

Barthes, Roland. Mythologies . 1. New York: Hill and Wang, 1972.

Franklin, Ursula M. The Real World of Technology. Scarborough, ON: Anansi Press, 1990.

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