When Did I Become a Consumer?

I am like almost everybody else in the western world, and probably also in many developing nations. Every day I come in contact with thousands of advertising messages that seek to influence me to make a purchase. As you may know, we do not live in a city or town, and yet even out here in rural Pukeokahu, the machine of brands and deals reaches out to touch us. Every time I check my email, interact with social media, watch TV, or read one of the free newspapers that come in via snail mail, the “brands” reach out to touch me.

One of the recent items that arrived in the physical mailbox was a letter checking that my address and personal details did not need updating. This letter was from the Electoral Commission and was to do with the upcoming Local Body elections to be held in October.

For some 60% of eligible voters, these elections will be at best, welcomed with a yawn. The majority of enrolled voters will not even bother to put their choices in the mail (it is a postal vote).

There is more interest in national elections with some 78% of enrolled voters visiting a polling station, but turnout is still not at levels where we could call the population engaged.

Other than our three yearly go at choosing our employees, most of us seldom bother to take a great deal of notice of them. This indifference is especially the case with local body politics. Of course, we will complain about this and that, and ask why the Council is not doing a better job. But very few of us will ever contact a councillor or attend a council meeting. It is a great deal easier to complain to mates over a beer.

Why is this? I know I am certainly guilty of it. Is it that we don’t care, or do we think we cannot make a difference?

We Have Become Consumers, Not Citizens

Much of the problem I think is that we have become consumers, and act like, and are treated as such. We have abandoned our job of being citizens.

Yes, our job of being citizens.

We have allowed ourselves to become not much more than the cogs in the economic machine. It is all about GDP (Gross Domestic Product) growth (sorry I don’t get that one – infinite growth in a finite world – that is a head-scratcher). What a strange beast GDP is where the rebuild from natural disasters such as earthquakes actually lifts GDP. Somewhat counter-intuitive, I would have thought.

What does GDP growth require? Of course, you knew all along. It requires that we consume. That we drag that credit card out and buy the next piece of crap that will find its way to the landfill, if not in a few months, then certainly when the designed obsolescence kicks in.

And so, rather than take some part in the destiny of our small Pacific piece of paradise, we instead allow ourselves to be influenced by the influencers, those horrid, so-called celebrities who clutter up the media with their vacuous endorsements, opinions and exhortations (often subtle) to support a particular brand.

Not only that, but we seem to want to somehow escape the drudgery of our own lives by following what happens in their lives. We avidly search for and hang on to each gossip piece. We consume it.

And meanwhile, we have given up on our jobs of being citizens. Of holding our elected employees to account – though if they become celebrities then for some reason we also want to follow and consume every detail of their personal lives.

I think this is a sad indictment of what we have allowed ourselves to become.

Not much more really than beings with credit cards. Consumers.

Brian Megaw

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