The Concept of Commodification

More musings from the Story of Stuff book:

Because we spend so much of our time chasing after money, to buy stuff that we don’t need, that promises us the world but delivers none of it – our communities are suffering. We spend so much time on the above, that we’re not available to be present and useful amongst our local community. This feeds our discontent and unhappiness because people in our local community could meet our need for relationship. We can have our emotional needs met by having a chat with a neighbour. We can have logistical needs met, by a neighbour bringing us a meal, babysitting, dog-walking, offering a lift or taking in our mail whilst we’re away.

Ironically, all of these things have now been commodified in our consumerist society and are available to buy from strangers, at a price! Probably most people don’t even know their neighbours these days, since all they do is go to work early and arrive home late. They are too busy, too stressed, time-poor and over-scheduled. No wonder we have increasing amounts of isolated elderly, or even depressed and overweight adults and children in our society. And the solution is really so simple!

If you’re a systems thinker, than you might liken this phenomenon to a negative feedback loop. A problem or problems, that cause an effect that only serves to add to the original problem. We now have to work harder, to pay for the kinds of service that friends and neighbours used to provide for free. This only serves to add to our stress levels and lack of time. So you can see how the downward spiral continues!

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Notes on Consumerism

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I’ve been watching the first episode of a BBC2 series ‘The Men Who Made Us Spend’- it is all about how consumerism is perpetually driven by product lifespans and ‘upgrades’. Interestingly, the concept of continual obsolescence was dreamt up by the CEO of General Motors in the 1950s. Consumer choice meant giving into what they want- a rainbow of high gloss colours just like nail varnish, different fabrics for seats, vast choice of models for every different budget and a new car range every year, but nothing actually mechanically different. In our modern society, giving objects social value, rather than simply utilitarian value and it is Apple who has taken on this mantle. So, does Apple really believe in great design or just in rolling upgrades to keep the cash flowing in? If you choose to stay part of this consumer culture, then simply- it will continue.

So what can you do to fight this? You could learn how to self-repair! Look up ifixit.com who’s philosophy is that to repair is noble; it creates freedom, it saves you money, saves the environment, it’s sustainable and it creates jobs. They created a special 5 point head screwdriver so you can self-repair your iPhone. In-fact, they have an encyclopaedia on-line of how to repair technology. One way to fight the disposable, throw-away culture of continuous spending.

This is just a mere snapshot of this fantastic programme. If this interests you too, or you want to catch up on previous episodes or just find out more information, go to:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/themenwhomadeusspend

This fab series of programmes is a collaboration between the BBC and the OU, so you can expect high quality!