Friday, November 12, 2010

The Story of Stuff

Stuff. It is everywhere, it is everything, it is really who we are. This video brings to mind a movie I watched in a management class "The Corporation." I have pondered this idea again and again and what always drives my thoughts is marketing and society.

If I had to describe the US society to someone I would tell them to walk outside-look around. Before you even got outside, how many different thoughts ran through your mind because of all of the ads, brands, or sounds you heard? It could be a text message, a poster promoting a group with sponsors swimming across the page, or even your colleagues brand-new "vintage" Nikes high tops. Walking outside you face billboards, stores, and more importantly the acceptance of the public. The thing that really confuses me as I sit here and right this post is that when I leave here I am going to most likely fall right into that society- not as fully as others, but habits and ways of life are hard to consciously recognize and stop.

Being one not to watch movies, this one kept my attention- she expanded the dry "extraction-production-distribution-consumption-disposal" into history, sarcasm, and expansive knowledge. We are a "system in crisis." This current linear system cannot proceed on a finite planet. Besides resources, production, consumption, and disposal we need to look at the other factors involved like people. The government and corporations are brought up first. The government is a big influence; however corporations are the final decision makers. Having more money, corporations play with the government like a string puppet. After WWII Victor LeBow said:
And there we have it- now we consume more than double of what American's consumed back in the 50's. American's are using 30% of the world's resources while only holding 5% of the world's population. With the increase of consumption, ironically enough, happiness in the United States in decreasing. We spend too much time watching the TV and shopping instead of the doing those things that increase happiness like spending time with friends and family. 
Why?
Marketing: It tells us we are wrong; people are exposed to over 300 advertisements a day telling us their products make what we are doing wrong right.
Planned Obsolescence: Products are designed to be used up within a specific time period. Products can be planned through function, like a paper coffee cup or a machine with breakable parts, or through “desirability,” like a piece of clothing made for this year’s fashion and then replaced by something totally different next year. It is also known as “design for the dump."
Perceived Obsolescence: Products that are still functional but no longer perceived to be stylish or desirable, like fashion.

She brings up the idea of how these consumer products we buy are actually paid for. In her example, the $4.99 radio definitely creates more costs in production than it is sold for. The rental space of where it sits, the health care and wages of the workers, the transportation of the plastic, oil, and metal used to produce it and the energy poured into the factory it was made in would make the product cost a large amount of money. By externalizing costs, the radio is sold for $4.99 at a higher price than what it costs the company to make.

So what is her solution?
Recycling? Not entirely. Many products can't be recycled because they are dirty or are not designed to be recycled. One garbage can full of garbage a household creates has already created over 70 cans of waste upstream of production. So while recycling is great, it is impossible for it to stop the waste already created.

Her solution is the solution spoke by many- look at the Big Picture.
We need to unite to reclaim and transform this consuming society to stop wasting resources and people and start using closed loop systems, clean up pollutants, and create local societies.

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