Tag Archives: consumerism

Chris Jordan makes art from our excesses and suggests personal responsibility (!) is the answer

This is a great talk about excess, but also about personal responsibility. Chris Jordan’s work takes a number (like 10 million paper cups every day) and makes an image out of it. It’s striking. That Americans use 10 million paper cups a day is almost meaningless. That, on average, every American buys a coffee in a paper cup every 10 days hardly seems like a fact worthy of note. But, in fact, that number translates into an image of a square wall of paper cups as tall as the Statue of Liberty generated every day. It is a strange and uncommon realization that our personal, daily, insignificant choices are (in fact) significant to the Grand Scheme of Things.

From the TED talk by Chris Jordan: Picturing excess:

“My work is about the behaviors that we all engage in unconsciously on a colective level. And what I mean by that is the behaviors that we are in denial about and the ones that operate below the surface of our daily awareness. As individuals we all do these things all the time every day. It’s like when you’re mean to you rwife because you are mad at somebody else… or when you drink a little too much at a party just out of anxiety… or when you overeat because your feelings are hurt.

“And when we do these kind of things – when 300 million people do these kind of things, these kind of unconscious behaviors, then it can ad dup to a catastrophic consequencde that nobody wants and nobody intended.

“How do we change as a culture? And how do we each individually take responsibility for the one piece of the solution that we are in charge of? The answer is in our own behavior. My belief is that you don’t have to make yourself bad to look at these issues. I’m not pointing the finger at America in a blaming way. I’m simply saying that this is who we are right now. And if there are things that we see that we don’t like about our culture, then we have a choice.

“The degree of integrity that each of us can bring to the surface, that each of us can bring to this question, the depth of character that we can summon as we show up for the question of “how do we change?” – it’s already defining us as individuals and as a nation. And it will continue to do that on in to the future. And it will profoundly affect the wellbeing and quality of life of billions of people who are going to inherit the results of our decisions.”


GTD, consumerism, meaningful pursuits and their effect on motivation

I read a great post not long ago about how we could all slow down and do something meaningful. Then we wouldn’t need GTD tricks to get things done. We would want to get them done. I would like to call that desire to get things done, ‘gumption,’ in the spirit of Robert M. Persig and the book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

Clay Collins’ post was great in part because it recognized the plain and simple truth that we are often stuck not on some organizational issue, but a motivational issue. The GTD mentality can get you out of the overwhelmed inaction gumption trap, but there are plenty of other gumption traps.

The biggest, I think, is doing something that is not really important. If you find yourself thinking that you don’t care if a thing gets done or not, then no amount of external force, tricks, emotional speeches or anything else will make it seem like it is worth doing for long. Yet, somehow, for some of us, not doing this unimportant thing causes anxiety. That’s an amusing situational irony if I’ve ever found one.

On the other hand, if the project is meaningful, then it will be a lot easier.

Determining what is meaningful may be a pretty hard task in itself. It might take a lot of time and emotional energy. And being stuck in the grind is not the best place to start. But how can you get out of the grind without some greater passion to pull you away? That is the dark underbelly of consumerism. Don’t think. Buy. Unhappy? Buy more. That make you less happy and in debt? More depressed? Too overwhelmed to think of a better way of life? Perfect. Keep buying. It’s the addict cycle. The easiest cure for withdrawal symptoms is to not withdraw.


Durable goods, maintenance, the maker ethos, and the first inroad to voluntary simplicity

Durable goods:

Real durable goods last and can be repaired and maintained.Then there are consumables, things you use for a while then throw away.The problem is that some things, in order to be competitive in price, look like durables but actually are designed to be consumables.Take air conditioners for example.

The laboratory where I work bought a a consumer-quality air conditioner for ~$500.It was supposed to run in a hot lab to take the thermal stress of some of the equipment.Within a year it had failed.It seems that the fail point was a single motor among 3 or 4 of the motors in there.Now, there might be a cascade failure situation.But in the end, it’s probably one motor replacement and the thing is back in shape.But we can’t get that one motor.The company won’t sell us just a part, and they want $75 plus transportation to have a rep come look at it without any guarantee he will be able to do anything.

So, what we have here is a disturbingly common situation of a consumable product masquerading as a durable product.What that means is that AC units used to be considered something you install, maintain, fix and keep around.It was durable.Maybe it cost $1000, but you expect that with $100 per year maintenance, it will last forever.Well, this AC unit only cost $500! A great deal! Except it wasn’t a durable good.It doesn’t cost $100 per year to maintain, it has to be fully replaced every year.

This is a different business model.How this works: produce the cheapest possible product in order to compete for foolish consumers’ attention.People are going to impulse buy on credit, so they are not investigating what is the best deal.So the lowest sticker price is going to get the sale.And, if the product is cheap and breaks, that’s all the better.Since it had a very limited warranty and no plan for maintenance (this thing doesn’t even have screws – it’s snapped together) it was virtually guaranteed to produce a second sale quite soon after.

Now I’m far from being the first to notice this trend; there is a growing subculture of people who are saying they want to be anti-consumers.They want to conserve and maintain.It’s a service-oriented culture that looks at making things last rather than making more things.I like that mentality for lots of reasons.It means more thought has to go into the product.It means less stress on the environment.It makes people more aware of their purchases and happy with their decisions.It’s a lower stress, higher reward lifestyle for more people. The people involved are contributing directly to the quality of each others’ lives rather than trying to produce as much crap as possible and trick each other into buying it.


P.S. Here’s the Rev. Billy of the Church of Stop Shopping to break it down.