Monthly Archive for August, 2010

Consumption Junction

Lately, I’ve been kicking around this idea. Rather than being defined by what I do or create, I have allowed myself to be defined by what I consume.  Moreover, through social consumption, I have taken an active role in this transformation.

Much consumption is personal.  I read the news that someone else creates.  I read links that others have promoted, to stories, videos, and pictures that still others have created.  I listen to music and movies created by other people.  Food prepared by others is delivered to me by other others.  I’m a “Blackberry person” or an “Iphone person.”  Even worse, I buy into the hype of future consumption, anticipating the next great thing.  Most of all, I’ve bought in to the idea that my choices in consumption somehow define me.

Moreover, consumption is increasingly collaborative.  And by sharing my consumption, I define myself to others in tiny increments.  Any time I’ve shared a link over email, Google Reader, or Facebook, any time I’ve asked a friend whether they watch Dexter, I’m micro-self defining.  In this way, we seek social approval.  I’m not the loser who watches The Apprentice, I’m the cool guy who watches The Wire.  Not only that, we track each other’s consumption, on sites like Facebook, Google Reader, Netflix, and so on.  Why, this very blog is oftentimes merely a memorialization of consumption, and you are consuming it right now.

I cannot claim ownership of the concept of “social consumption.”  One author wrote in February 2010 that “we pour[] much of our energy into expressing individuality through our consumption” (and yes, I recognize the irony of referencing another to validate my views on consumption).  Moreover, the marketing types who are hard at work pushing you in one direction or the other have recognized this phenomenon as well.  In the Journal of Marketing Theory and Practice, two authors conclude in the Fall of 2006 that:

The analysis showed that materialism correlated significantly with social consumption motivation and a mid-range level of opinion leadership, and was a significant and important predictor of time spent shopping and spending. Results suggest that materialists are sensitive to the social acceptability and communicative ability of products and brands.

From Wikipedia: Neil Postman contrasts the worlds of Nineteen Eighty-Four and Brave New World in the foreword of his 1985 book Amusing Ourselves to Death. He writes:

What Orwell feared were those who would ban books. What Huxley feared was that there would be no reason to ban a book, for there would be no one who wanted to read one. Orwell feared those who would deprive us of information. Huxley feared those who would give us so much that we would be reduced to passivity and egoism. Orwell feared that the truth would be concealed from us. Huxley feared the truth would be drowned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture, preoccupied with some equivalent of the feelies, the orgy porgy, and the centrifugal bumblepuppy. As Huxley remarked in Brave New World Revisited, the civil libertarians and rationalists who are ever on the alert to oppose tyranny “failed to take into account man’s almost infinite appetite for distractions.” In 1984, Orwell added, people are controlled by inflicting pain. In Brave New World, they are controlled by inflicting pleasure. In short, Orwell feared that what we fear will ruin us. Huxley feared that our desire will ruin us.

I’m not saying I have a new idea.  Even by this post, I have not really created anything.  Most of what I’ve said here is probably said better in Fight Club.  I don’t I have an answer, other than perhaps awareness.  But isn’t that the way it is, every goddamned time?