Reflection on the Role of Consumption in Everyday Life

29 Mar 2018

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  • Meghan Tenorio

Consumption in Everyday Life

Eating a hamburger. Buying a t-shirt. Buying a car. Buying gasoline. Just a few things that everyone will do or will most likely do in their lifetime. Consumption is the using up of goods and services by consumer purchasing or in the production of other goods. Someone in the field of international studies can be looking for a relationship between consumption and its role in the environment, national identity, gender, and economic development. Consumption’s role in daily life is inevitable, and as we advance further into the 21st century we can see just how much it connects the people as a whole.

“A pound of sugar is only a quantity, a convenient load, not an object in itself. The book, however – and here it prefigures the durables of our time – is a distinct, self-contained object, exactly reproduced on a large scale. One pound of sugar flows into the next; each book has its own eremitic self-sufficiency” (Anderson 34). This quote is just an example of the simultaneous consumption of the newspaper-as-fiction. Consumption may never be predictable. While “particular morning and evening editions will overwhelmingly be consumed between this hour, and that, only on this day, not that; sugar, the use of which proceeds in an unclocked, continuous flow; it may go bad, but it does not go out of date” (Anderson 35). Consumption is also not limited to one thing at a time; it may be and usually is simultaneous. As the same newspaper reader reads on the subway or in the barbershop while getting his hair cut, he is performing multiple acts of consumption at once. This assures the reader that the world is visibly rooted in the act of consumption in everyday life. Print-capitalism, a possible form of consumption, is a way that communities can achieve a sense of national identity and connect on a profound level. “Hence, the printer’s office emerged as the key to North American communications and community intellectual life” (Anderson 61). Assuming that consumption is a social process says that our identity focuses on symbolic aspects rather than the actual material consumption.

In the book Eaarth by Bill McKibben consumption is spoken about in the sense of environment – water, land, and especially forms of energy. It is one of the main reasons that the earth is where it is right now – slowly (or perhaps not as slowly as we thought) degrading into earth where any kind of adaptation will prove impossible. As he states, “Global warming is no longer a philosophical threat, no longer a future threat, no longer a threat at all. It’s our reality. We’ve changed the planet, changed it in large and fundamental ways… We need now to understand the world that we’ve created, and consider – urgently – how to live in it” (McKibben Xiv). The Swedish chemist Svante Arrhenius offers the idea a century ago that we were “evaporating our coal mines into the air,” and calculated that this could eventually raise temperatures, but nobody seemed to pay much attention. We’re not going to get back the planet we once had. “We’re like the guy who ate steak for dinner every night and let his cholesterol top 300 and had a heart attack. Now he dines on Lipitor and walks on the treadmill, but half his heart is dead tissue” (McKibben 16). Through high levels of consumption, we’ve burned the coal and the oil, and released the first dose of carbon, that carbon that raised the temperature enough to start the process in motion. Once it’s in motion there is nothing to shut it off but can only be slightly lessened. Without even realizing it “…now, we’ve turned our cars and factories into junior volcanoes, and so we’re not just producing carbon faster than the plant world can absorb it; we’re also making it so hot that the plants absorb less carbon than they used to” (McKibben 23). From the time that we wake up, the second we turn on that coffee pot till the second we turn off the lights and go to bed (don’t forget the furnace or the air-conditioner that is probably still running) we are burning coal and gas and oil. Our tendency for consumption – not only consumption but more specifically over-consumption – is why we are where we are environmentally. “Richard Heinberg, the analyst who was one of the first to alert the world to the impending oil peak, once compiled a list of things made from oil that ran from computer chips, insecticides, anesthetics, and fertilizers, right through lipstick, perfume, and pantyhose to aspirin and parachutes” (McKibben 30). These are just a few products that we all consume in one way, or another. This consumption, the overuse of oil, is leading to global warming. It is possible to slow down the growth but only with the cooperation on a small scale – “small, not significant; dispersed, not centralized” (McKibben 120). All this can add up to the results we are looking for. This means reshaping our society. Growth and expansion requires a kind of centralization: a concentration of resources and the need for consumption. What we are looking for is the opposite. Our earth may never be the same, but at least we will still have an earth to thrive on in whatever shape or form.

Consumption has a huge involvement in economic development in the way that whatever we consume benefits the economy. This holds true to many products: food, beauty products, intangible items, and even something as simple as a plain white cotton t-shirt. In the book The Travels of a T-shirt in the Global Economy by Pietra Rivoli it shows many examples of how consumption all over the world can have effects on the growth of the economy in the U.S. The shirts that have the “Made in China” label are usually made out of cotton that comes from Texas. Texas cotton doesn’t brag about where it was born and raised: ”Desolate, hardscrabble, and alternately baked to death, shredded by windstorms, or pummeled by rocky hail, west Texas will never have much of a tourist trade” (Rivoli 3). However, there is a very good chance that your t-shirt and mine were born there in a city called Lubbock, the self-proclaimed “cottonest city” in the world. Cotton may seem like an unlike candidate for economic success in the United States, but the consumption rates prove it to be a good candidate as most of cotton comes from the U.S. Cotton growers can also appeal to other aspects of consumption than only t-shirts. “Connoisseurs agree that when it comes to frying chips, cottonseed oil is best” (Rivoli 52). Colgate-Palmolive is also a major customer when it comes to cottonseed oil. This just proves the fact that consumption occurs in multiple ways at once – from the cotton to the cottonseed oil – and, therefore, can help the economic growth and stability more rapidly. Although, because of the abundance of cotton growers in the U.S., other countries fail to find economic stability through cotton production itself as well as the U.S. has.

Consumption is an everyday thing and starts as soon as you wake up right up until you turn the lights off at night. It has its benefits up to a set point but also needs to be regulated if we want to maintain a livable planet. Consumption can be a social act, as well as materialistic. Either way, consumption as a whole benefits our national identity and economic development, though if not taken down to the local level it could be harmful to our environment and planet as we know it.

Works Cited

Anderson, Benedict R. O'G. Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. London: Verso, 1991. Print.

McKibben, Bill. Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet. New York: Times, 2010. Print.

Rivoli, Pietra. The Travels of a T-shirt in the Global Economy: An Economist Examines the Markets, Power and Politics of World Trade. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, 2005. Print.

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