I’m not buying it!
Companies tout themselves as ‘sustainable’. Then dare to sell me consumer goods designed to be obsolete in an all-too-short while.
You know the stories.
Our kids stand in long lineups to buy new iPhones as soon as they are released. My clothes dryer is nearing the end of its planned life and no repairman wants to touch it.
I’m fighting back.
I’m not buying a new iPhone until the one I own shatters.
I don’t care how much racket my dryer makes. I’m not replacing it until it clunks.
How can all these good corporations beating their chests about sustainability fail to notice? Planned obsolescence is diametrically opposed to their lofty goal!
From need to want
My parents were born during the Great Depression. When the stock market crashed in 1929, the emerging consumer culture was beaten out of people.
“Do you need that?” was always the question. Growing up, no one asked me if I wanted something.
In our rural neighbourhood, Dad played Santa at Christmas concerts and family gatherings… for 60 years in a row! He retired his red robes and beard when he turned 80.
Imagine six decades of kids scrambled onto his lap, assuring Santa they had been good all year. Dad was a jolly Santa, with a deep, echoing HO-HO-HO. But part of him must have flinched every time one of those rambunctious kids on his lap told Santa what they wanted.
No kid ever asked Santa for something they needed.
Once in a while, I buy my father something luxurious for Christmas. A mohair blanket, a pair of UGG sheepskin slippers, a brand-name flannel plaid shirt. Always, he wrinkles up his nose. Holds the gift as far away as possible. Then looks right at me, and smirks.
It’s painful. We both get the disconnect.
He doesn’t need this gift. I’m weary of buying him garden hoses and long johns. As a consumer and a daughter, I feel better buying him luxury goods he doesn’t really need.
How utterly weird.
Recently, I’ve started to buy Dad buckets of caramel popcorn. It makes me giggle seeing his delighted reaction. Who really needs caramel corn? Finally, I’ve wedged a small, sweet crack into his armour.
Consuming based on needs alone is a nostalgic view though. Most of us grew up in a time when being a consumer was encouraged. By corporate marketers, of course. And, politicians too.
To rebuild democratic economies following the two World Wars, capitalism and consumerism became codependent. We couldn’t have one without the other.
The hidden persuaders
Consumerism was no accident. Psychoanalysts moved into business to create consumers of men and women.
About sixty years ago–the same time Dad launched his alter-ego as Santa–Vance Packard lifted the veil on consumerism. His book, The Hidden Persuaders, is still a jaw-dropping read.
Ad agencies researched peoples’ unconscious motivation for purchasing. Sex, ego and identity are our internal influencers.
A consumer product improves my self-image, my self-confidence, my relationship with my Dad.
Politicians used the same research. After September 11th, I’ll never forget President George W. Bush’s call to action for the American people: Go out and spend!
It was patriotic to spend and to consume.
Buying your dignity?
True confession? I like consuming.
When I buy “Made in Canada” I even feel a hot flash of patriotism. A little Canadian flag merrily waves in my head.
And I’m no slouch. I’m paying attention to the forces out there influencing my choices, trying to brainwash me.
I get that I’ve come to want products to help me be an ‘individual’ within a world of conformity….Or, is it that I want to conform, to buy an identity or a way of life that looks appealing?
Honestly, sometimes I’m confused about which direction I’m heading. Do I want to be a more unique individual or more like others?
Either way, I worry sometimes about what motivates me to want more stuff.
Am I borrowing dignity from consumer objects – a name brand, relationships—believing that this stuff makes me valuable. Perhaps even a better daughter?
I believe in innate dignity, I know we all have value. So, why do I need a consumer product for placebo effect?
But when the extreme measures we’ll take to sustain consumer culture stare me in the face—expecting me to turn a blind eye to planned obsolescence, for example—I start to act like my Dad.
Right now, I don’t need a new iPhone, a new clothes dryer.
And I don’t want them either.
I can imagine my clothes dryer in the landfill site. Shoved up alongside thousands of abandoned fridges, stoves, washers, dishwashers and other limited life appliances.
A graveyard of thin metal and fatigued parts. It makes me cringe.
And, so, I’m demanding more. Consumer marketers, offer me a plan for my clothes dryer that is ethical and sustainable. That means: Repair it for a reasonable cost. Provide spare parts for decades not months. And tell me how you will re-use the thin metal and parts.
Or, maybe it would be better if I lobbied municipal councillors in Calgary. Ask them to let me plant a clothes-line in my backyard.
Wouldn’t that make my Dad chuckle?
This idea could even resurrect the manufacture of clothes lines, clothes pins.
This makes me feel good, even altruistic!
Holy moly. This could be the germ of a great new consumer trend.
I have to move on this fast. I want to be ready for Black Friday 2018!
Donna Kennedy-Glans, November 23rd 2017