Tuesday, November 25, 2008

When did consumers change from heterotrophs to wasteful shoppers ?

Good title eh ? What the hell is a heterotroph ? Hah, got ya !

I found this word as I was considering the word
consumer. You do a Wikipedia search for consumer and you get the typical economic explanation. But what about the other meaning of the word ? It took a while to notice the single-line redirection right at the top in italics ! This is perhaps an example where Wikipedia's focus is just too narrow, and can unintentionally steer our thinking to unquestioned elements of today's society, rather than be a tool to open up our minds and take a fresh look at the world. But I digress...

So, I looked on an
online dictionary for the word consumer. I thought I was out of luck, but there is was at the bottom of the list.
A heterotrophic organism that feeds on other organisms in a food chain. Herbivores that feed on green plants and detritivores that feed on decaying matter are called primary consumers. Carnivores that feed on herbivores or detritivores are called secondary consumers, while those that feed on other carnivores are called tertiary consumers.
So, then I looked for heterotrophic on Wikipedia. So, apart from learning a cool new word for the day, what does this potentially tell us ?

I agree that modern humans are much more than heterotrophs, but carelessly re-using the word that fundamentally drives our survival as a word to designate "buying something" is perhaps an indication that we've taken a wrong turn somewhere along the way.
(sidenote#1 - ok, the definition of consumer in Wikipedia does actually start by talking about "using" rather than "buying", but I'm sure you'll agree that's how we normally think about a consumer today; sidenote #2, in software tech talk, we often refer to an application consuming an object; sidenote #3 - blogger even thinks heterotroph isn't a word).

I found a brief excerpt from
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Consumerism that gives some insight into this new use of the word.

The great turn in consumerism arrived with the Industrial Revolution. While before the norm had been the scarcity of resources, The Industrial Revolution created an unusual situation: for the first time in history products were available in outstanding quantities, at outstandingly low prices, being thus available to virtually everyone. And so began the era of Mass Consumption, the only where the concept of consumerism is applicable.

It's still good to keep in mind that since consumerism began, various individuals and groups have consciously sought an alternative lifestyle through simple living.

But as you can read from this, there is a glimmer of understanding that we don't have to be this way and in fact, total, unabated consumerism is wasteful and harmful in many ways.

With the Christmas season bearing down hard, good intentions for charity and the simple life, not to mention the dreadful state of the economy and darkening skies in the future, I thought I'd try and provide some simple guidelines for our shopping decisions. I thought about a fancy flowchart, but perhaps the following step-thru guide does the trick. So you think you need to buy a new item and you can afford it, should you buy it?
  1. Are you replacing an item you already own ? If no, skip to 8.
  2. Do you use the current one ? If no skip to 7.
  3. Is the current one broken, worn out or unreliable ? If yes, skip to 15.
  4. Is it killing the environment or making you sick ? If yes, skip to 15.
  5. Is it hideously out of date and makes your family disown you ? If yes, skip to 15.
  6. Is it the reason your good friends don't call you any more ? If yes, skip to 15.
  7. You don't need a new one.
  8. Do you really need more than 1 of these items ? If no, return to 2.
  9. Is the new item going to save you lots of extra time and/or money ? If yes, skip to 14.
  10. Will you use it more than once a week (average) ? If no, skip to 16.
  11. Will it increase the chances of sex with your spouse ? If yes, skip to 14.
  12. Will it prevent an massive argument with the family ? If yes, skip to 14.
  13. Will it make you sing, dance and/or laugh ? If no, skip to 16.
  14. Buy it.
  15. Buy it and recycle the old one
    (or at least dispose of it in an environmentally friendly way)
  16. Don't buy it.
I admit, this is slanted towards by personal beliefs and provides just enough justification for staying up to date, stylish and entertained. It is work-in-progress, and will likely change, once I break it. In addition and to close, I should probably build a similar guide for reducing the amount of unnecessary or excess stuff in my life.


Suze20TO said...

Wow!! Do you have wallet-sized laminated versions for us to carry around with us?

Can't wait to see the decluttering version!!

Eco said...

In the ultimate example of tragic consumerism, people lined up a Walmart store in NY trampled and killed a worker there in a rush to get holiday specials as the store opened on Black Friday.

You can read the news item here: http://www.nypost.com/seven/11282008/news/regionalnews/man_killed__woman_miscarries_in_wal_mart_141313.htm

Just tragic.