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I Shop, therefore I am!

By Syed Kazim 

The last two decades have witnessed an over expanding interest in consumerism. We are a society consumed by consumerism. Advertising companies, celebrity spokespersons, movies and TV shows conspire to render the consumer object into a fetish imbued with magical, if not downright divine powers, writes SYED KAZIM.

Today’s society seems as though it is being taken over by consumerism. The term consumerism is defined as the tendency of people to identify strongly with products they consume, particularly of name brands and status-enhancing appeal.

With the marketing world growing larger day by day, it seems more and more people are attracted to the advertised products and feel the need to have them in order to keep in style with the rest of society. The term ‘conspicuous consumption’ applies to those people who show off their products in order to show their wealth; as per Maslow’s need-hierarchy, he terms this an Esteem need. These people who show off their expensive clothing, jewelry or cars are trying to make an impression on people. Yet what does this impression hold?

In the past 100 years, world consumption has grown at a rate unprecedented in human history and especially the American economy is totally driven by the infection of consumerism. In 1900, a total of $1.5 trillion was spent by public and private consumers. By 1975, it was estimated at $12 trillion. By 1998, it doubled to $24 trillion. It continues to grow rapidly.

20% of the world’s people living in rich countries account for 86% of total global consumer spending. The US and Canada, with 5.2% of the world’s population, are responsible for 31.5% of consumption. South Asia, with 22.4% of the population, is responsible for 2% of consumption. The average African household today consumes 25% less than 25 years ago. In 2005, China used 26% of the world’s steel, 32% of rice, and 47% of cement. Though their per-capita resource consumption is low, with their large populations China and India look set soon to join the US and Europe as super consumers.

Today, the country’s economic health is measured more according to how much we are willing to spend, our consumer confidence and less in how much we produce, the gross national product, or even how we invest. If previous leaders preached self-sacrifice and service, our so-called leaders today from the corporate world send the only signal which is to consume and consume and consume. Since 9/11, the American government has consistently told Americans that if they want to help the country, they must consume.

Even as we walk through the corridors of the colleges, we can see many people wearing the more expensive clothing with name brands stitched boldly across their chest. Why do so many people do this? If you ask them, they would most likely reply that it is in style or is the latest trend. People strive for acceptance. However, showboating is not a genuine way to go about gaining acceptance. Just because a person has the finer things in life, it does not mean he is a better person. Some people even grow shallow enough to think poorly of people who do not have the more expensive items or clothing.

Thanks to the software companies for paying huge salaries to the software professionals. After earning so much, where are they to spend it? Even if they do not have the attitude of spending more money, the peer pressure stimulates them to do so. Also thanks to the credit card companies who have encouraged their customers to purchase more and more, even if they do not have any money in their bank account.

The last two decades have witnessed an over expanding interest in consumerism. The word consumerism has to be fully understood in its historical retrospect with reference to the consumer’s position in common law, main areas of regulations, controls on advertising, labeling standards, etc. We are a society consumed by consumerism. It is sad to say that, but it becomes truer each day. Think of how much consumerism has grown over the last 20 years or so. It is horrifying to think. Now the million dollar question: where we will be in the next 20 years at this level of consumerism?

In the 21st century, pleasure is equated to consumption. Consumerism, has become no less than any cult or religion, it has the power to level individual difference and independence and render citizens into a homogeneous mass. Advertising companies, celebrity spokespersons, movies and TV shows conspire to render the consumer object, be it a Rs. 1 ice cream cone or a Rs. 15 lakh luxury sedan, into a fetish imbued with magical, if not downright divine powers.

Today, consumer is called the king of the market. He is at the centre stage of all market activities. It is constant endeavour of producers that the production of product must conform to the needs of consumer. In addition to the satisfaction of the consumer, it is also the endeavour of producer that their sale should be maximum. They, therefore, try to increase their sales by all possible means.

Today shopping has become a status symbol. You are considered as part of the society and you are considered up to date only when you do regular shopping. The question, “do you go for shopping?” has become a prominent question when a family goes to see a bride for their daughter, brother, etc. In a true incident a middle class family rejected a boy as a bridegroom for their daughters, saying: “The boy is earning just Rs. 50,000 per month and nothing can happen with Rs. 50,000 in today’s world.” It’s really shocking, isn’t it? Because of this corrupt consumerism mentality, the whole bride/ bridegroom selection criteria is now based on income and less importance is given to the character of the person. One of the important catalysts of consumerism is the greed to have more and more. A person should purchase a particular good/ service because he needs it, not because he has the capacity to own it!

Consumerism infantilizes us, alienates us from one another, and makes us apathetic as citizens. What’s ironic is that even if you base human worth not on social responsibility but on individual happiness, consumerism still fails us. But, given the global economic crisis and the rapid rate at which we are consuming Earth’s resources, how long can our little comforts last? It is just going to cause problems in the long run!

God has designed the world mechanism in such a way that it can satisfy every man’s need but not every man’s greed!

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