Reflecting on Consumption
Brandon Sun, November 21, 2011 - David McConkey
The Occupy Wall Street protest may be fading. But there is an
opportunity this Friday for anyone to reflect on the issues raised by
the Occupy protesters.
At first largely ignored, Occupy Wall Street (and elsewhere) has
transformed the public conversation. Even those who criticize the
protesters refer to the issues the Occupiers highlighted, like jobs,
inequality, bailouts for the rich, and the consumer society.
The Occupiers are like many protesters, trailblazers, and
whistleblowers: they raise the issues that should be addressed but we
would rather ignore. Even long after their ideas become mainstream, we
often still view protesters as annoying, impractical, or possibly
Think of those who protested more than a century ago against slavery or
for the right of women to vote. Doesn’t something like a picture of
disruptive radicals come to mind?
But just as those voices were needed years ago to draw attention to
unsettling issues, those voices are also needed today. It is not just
Greece or Italy that is unsustainable. So too are many other aspects of
our world: from inequality of wealth and opportunity to resource
consumption that is beyond the limits of the planet.
And while the Occupy protests have made an impression on the current
narrative, their lasting influence may be even more far reaching. The
discussions (and whatever else was going on in those tents!) could
become the inspiration and incubator for this generation’s new ideas
for society, business, technology, the arts, whatever.
The unconventional is an important part of progress. The Occupy
movement could have an impact like the “Whole Earth Catalog” and LSD
had on Steve Jobs in his pre-Apple days in the 1970s.
But what about this Friday?
This Friday is Buy Nothing Day
which was first promoted by Adbusters
magazine in the early 1990s. (This Vancouver-based publication is also
the originator of Occupy
, calling for the protest in its
Buy Nothing Day is marked on the Friday after American Thanksgiving; in
2011, this Friday. In the U.S., it is the start of the Christmas season
and the busiest shopping day of the year. (Think of Boxing Day in Canada.)
For retailers, it is the good “Black Friday,” when they go into the
Another day in the shopping cycle is “Cyber Monday,” which is the
following Monday. This is now the busiest day for online purchasing.
After perusing products, consumers place their actual orders on the
Internet on Monday when they are back at work.
Buy Nothing Day can be a break from this hectic consumerism. It can be
a day to reflect on our shopping decisions and also on our
commercialized world. Adbusters points out that we are bombarded by literally
thousands of marketing messages every day. This theme is
Morgan Spurlock’s recent movie The
Greatest Movie Ever Sold
. (On Amazon.com
What we buy impacts the world’s people, communities, and environment.
Money is an important part of how we engage as local / global citizens:
as consumers, borrowers, savers, investors, donors, and organization
Buy Nothing Day can be a meaningful respite. We can consider how we
might purchase items that, for example, are fair trade or
environmentally sound, or support a local business or charity. We also
can consider how our buying affects us overall. Taking a break from
shopping can be a chance to start the decluttering of our spaces, our
minds, our lives.
And while it has been around for two decades, Buy Nothing Day could
well be coming into its own right now.
We are in a time of anxiety about who we are and what we buy. While
some in the world are dealing with too much stuff in their lives,
others do not have enough resources to actually live.
We are searching – personally and globally – for just that right mix of
sustenance, satisfaction, and sustainability.
These concerns have been put into sharp focus by the recent economic
turmoil of the 2008 financial meltdown, the recession, and the global
Take a look at the new genre of popular TV shows that capture this
current zeitgeist. Among them are Hoarders
, Storage Wars
, and Consumed
. (Respectively, in two-word reviews: simply depressing,
strangely addictive, and surprisingly uplifting!)
While they entertain us, these programs invite us to ask: When does a
bounty of stuff become a river of crap?
* * *
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