Today we are almost everywhere surrounded by calls to buy. The Internet, television, radio, advertising banners in verses and colors tell about what a person cannot do without, and at the same time form the image of a successful and fashionable person who keeps up with the times and is in trend. Mass media create public opinion, values, needs, certain social norms to which each of us should strive. Simply put, we live in a consumer society. About whether this is good or bad, what pluses and minuses it has, how it affects consciousness, and what it can lead to, we want to talk about in this article.
The consumer society and the consumer
Literally from all sides, advertisers urge people (and especially the younger generation) to take everything from life, live for themselves, live to the fullest, boldly surrender to carelessness and fun. An indicator of status and success (and even intelligence!) Are cool expensive phones, fashionable sneakers, cars “stuffed” with all sorts of options, etc.
Almost everything is on sale today, and this applies not only to material things but also to time, skills, abilities, beauty. There are even services such as “Husband for an hour”, “Friend for an hour” and many others. Those. even universal values are becoming a bargaining chip today. It turns out that in a consumer society, real values turn into artificial ones (although this is debatable).
From whatever side we look at the prerequisites and reasons for the emergence of such a society, we will see that it was created by man. And a person in a consumer society feels his value, self-sufficiency, and self-respect, not possessing any important personal qualities, but corresponding to certain consumer behavior.
Person-consumer values himself (and other people-consumers support him in this) not for personal achievements, but for the possession of things. He thinks of himself something like: “I have such and such an apartment, such and such a car, such and such things, which means that I am cool and successful, life is good.” And it is not at all necessary that these things really like him. The main thing is for them to be appreciated in the consumer society, to comply with the established social standards.
In this picture, there is nothing about the person himself, but there are a lot of descriptions of the external attributes of his life. Man identifies himself with what he has. Material things like “expand” his personality, and sometimes even replace it, because the internal (moral, spiritual, etc.) criteria of value simply disappear.
In a consumer society, such achievements as, for example, raising and putting children on their feet, being a good parent and a person, being able to independently choose and make decisions, personal growth and self-development, understanding the meaning of life and one’s mission, are relegated to the background.
But these are just a few characteristic features of a consumer society and a consumer. You can also highlight other features, for example, an increase in personal expenses of people, a decrease in the role of small trade enterprises, changes in the field of communications, and others.
If you are interested in examining this phenomenon in this vein, we recommend reading the book “The Consumer Society” by Jean Baudrillard and the essay “The Lonely Man” by Erich Fromm. To understand what they are about, watch this short video, where Fromm talks about money and human happiness:
The influence of consumer society on psychology and consciousness
We can conditionally divide the needs of people into two groups:
- Needs due to the need for existence, personal and spiritual growth (food, education, housing, communication, etc.)
- Needs leading to personality degradation (alcohol abuse, demonstrativeness, craving for things (materialism), etc.)
A society that promotes excessive consumption, motivates to acquire more and more things and forms substitute values, could not appear on its own. Social and economic preconditions have led to this, the most significant of which is the development of corporations and the policy of lending.
Offering more and more money and promising favorable terms, business sharks are forcing people to use some services, even if they don’t really want it. As a result, a culture of life in debt is created, a culture of unlimited consumption. And, being in this culture, a person experiences tremendous pressure on his consciousness (and does not always realize it!) Let’s consider the main results to which this pressure can lead.
Changing attitudes towards work
A society oriented mostly towards consumption changes people’s attitude to work as an activity. Of course, this affects the younger generation most seriously. New professions appear on the labor market, mainly in the service sector. At the same time, the overwhelming majority of these services are redundant or are aimed at meeting the second group of needs.
We hear everywhere that life needs to be made easy; everything should be as accessible as possible. We don’t need to do anything at all – just click the mouse button, and everything that is needed will be delivered to the doorstep on the same day. But this is only one side.
Another is that in just a few hours of unskilled labor (for example, distributing leaflets on the street) you can sometimes earn up to 50$ (and sometimes more). Having made simple calculations, we will see that a person who does not have any education and experience can make good money. In a month, this can be more than a teacher or doctor in a polyclinic earns.
Based on this, a person comes to the idea: why should I study and get an education, if I can earn good money without it? This is, of course, an exaggerated example, but it is not far from reality. Thus, there is a reorientation towards easy work and a refusal from systematic work, education is devalued; qualifications and specialization are losing their value.
However, one can see how the attitude towards labor in the consumer society is changing in the opposite direction. A huge number of people (and here the question concerns mainly the older generation) are struck by the “epidemic” of excessive labor. People devote all their time to work, earning extra money in order to earn more and keep up with trends, which negatively affect health and personal life, family relationships, and opportunities for self-realization.
As a result, the life of a person who is constantly concerned about his financial situation becomes like hard labor. In addition to this, his consumer debt is growing. All this can lead to the most unfavorable consequences affecting absolutely all areas and spheres of the internal and external life of a person.
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In a consumer society, a person seeks to satisfy the excess needs and requirements of the second group. Of course, the needs of the first group will also be satisfied, but the main attention will be paid to the needs that form “authorities” for people (fashion, trends, companies, advertisers, etc.)
Each of us does something and is active when striving for something. Life is given to man not only to eat, drink and sleep. But in order to be aware of your goals and desires, you need to reflect, understand yourself, know yourself, correlate desires and opportunities.
If we know how to measure our abilities, resources, and needs with goals and objectives, we can be called adults. And the consumer society reduces all these skills to zero, making each of us an infantile person. And again: if adults still retain an adequate attitude to things, then modern youth already live in a world where this is the norm.
The infantilization of people is spreading more and more. In real life, this is observed through belated growing up, unwillingness and inability to engage in hard work, gravitation towards a carefree and easy existence, inability to make decisions and cope with difficulties, irresponsibility, and frivolity. This also includes various forms of addiction: from the Internet, computer games, gadgets, etc.
Substitution of the leading activity
There is a very interesting term in psychology – leading activity. It is used to designate an activity that produces the formation of psychological characteristics that are most important for a person as he develops. Simply put, this is the main type of human activity at a particular age, on the basis of which changes occur in the psyche.
For example, for a child, the leading activity is a game, for a teenager – in learning, for an adult – in work. The consumer society is what changes the leading human activity. People do not want to work and study, but want to play (and here again we are talking about changing attitudes towards work and infantilization).
If you dig deeper, a change in leading activity leads to the fact that people are less and less willing to take responsibility, and this affects the attitude towards the institution of the family. The age at first marriage is increasing, and there are more and more people who do not want to tie the knot at all.
Responsible actions are a sign of adulthood, maturity. But a human consumer reminds a child who does not need a partner – he needs a parent (of course, we are talking about social roles). If we take all this to a common denominator, then the leading activity for people in a consumer society is not an adult’s life, but a child’s.
Corruption of consciousness
Do not think of it as hypocrisy, but uncontrolled consumption affects the mind in a corrupt way. When a person can easily and without any problems go and get things on credit or take loans in almost any amount like this, animal instincts begin to wake up in him.
This means that a person becomes completely absorbed in satisfying his needs, losing his sense of proportion. His mind is overshadowed by a huge number of “opportunities”, which he certainly hurries to take advantage of. He believes that the whole world is in his hands: if he wanted it, he received it.
The consumer society implants in the minds of people the idea that you need to live only by your desires, without thinking about the consequences, but at one point you have to pay for everything. And this, in turn, can lead to very different, but most often unpleasant consequences.
In addition, the feeling of permissiveness is projected onto other areas of life: communication with family and friends, relationships with the opposite sex, professional relationships, and any other communication in general. The human consumer requires feelings, love, a certain attitude towards himself, and respect from people. He is sure that it can be obtained, if not just like that, then for the money, for sure.
It is no less sad that many people are ready to give all this, and, again, for money. Everywhere today you can find artificial love, friendship, interest, etc. But as soon as the money runs out, there is no trace of all this, because people have fulfilled their “financial obligations” to each other.
A life of addiction and illusion
In a consumer society, a person’s values and desires are formed by someone “from above”. This can be compared to how parents constantly decide for their children what to do, what to eat, what to wear, what they want in the end. Not every adult (and young people – and even more so) is not able to answer, for example, why does he change his still quite good and working car or the same phone for a newer one.
There are many such situations, but they all say that we lose the ability to choose ourselves. We become dependent – on what others think, on the things we use, on new products on the market, on money itself, etc. We stop sleeping normally, dreaming of paying off the loan and taking a new one to buy something else. Or because we are mired in a hole in debt, and it is no longer known whether we will be able to get out of it.
As for illusions, on the one hand, a person puts on rose-colored glasses, starting to believe in artificial values, and on the other, he plunges into a life simulator – computer games, social networks, in order to stay “on the wave”, not to be an “outsider”, to correspond “ requirements “dictated by the consumer society.
Yes, the picture is not very rosy. But this is not a reason to give up and become a pessimist. In fact, it is within the power of each of us to cope with the pressure of the consumer society. You just need to brainstorm a little and try to lead a conscious lifestyle without losing self-awareness and individuality.
Later in the article, we will give you some useful tips on how, while living in a consumer society, still remain free from its shackles and obsessions. But first, we would like to summarize the main reflections and briefly list the pros and cons of what we are talking about today.
Consumer society: PROS and CONS
It is impossible to consider a consumer society, pointing only to its shortcomings and destructive impact on a person and society. Therefore, we invite you to get acquainted with the opinions of public figures, sociologists, economists, and psychologists, both against this phenomenon and in its favor.
So, what do experts see as bad in the consumer society:
- consumer society contributes to the formation of dependence and lack of independence;
- the main goal of a person is the consumption of goods and services;
- education, professional development and labor are becoming secondary things;
- a consumer society is based on natural resources that are virtually indestructible;
- for highly developed countries where there is a consumer society, third world countries serve as a raw material appendage;
- the responsibility of people at different levels decreases;
- at the upper stage of society there are people who move progress, and there are very few of them; the rest of the people are needed only to maintain the smooth operation of equipment and maintain the operation of the market system;
- moral values recede into the background: mental, moral and spiritual development becomes insignificant;
- the personality in the consumer society is degrading, and mass culture is experiencing a severe decline;
- in a consumer society, it is easy to manipulate the minds of people and deceive them;
- economic goals prevail over all others.
But in contrast to the opponents of the consumer society, its “defenders” give the following arguments:
- due to consumption, a responsible and good government emerges, aimed at long-term social stability (necessary for a consumer society);
- manufacturers strive to improve and create new products and services that contribute to progress;
- high consumer standards motivate people to long-term learning, advanced training, hard work and making money;
- consumption reduces social tension;
- the drive to consume drives out religious and ethnic tensions, thereby reducing extremism;
- people in a consumer society are much less inclined to take risks;
- the consumer society gravitates towards higher environmental standards and environmentally friendly products, thereby producing their creation by manufacturers;
- consuming raw materials and goods of the third world countries, the consumer society contributes to their development.
The essence of professional opinions in our article is summarized, and if you want to understand the details, we again recommend reading the works of Jean Baudrillard and Erich Fromm, as well as Georges Perek, Naomi Klein, Herbert Marcuse, Guy Debord, Lindstrom Martin.
However, the ideas outlined are quite enough to form a more or less objective opinion about consumer society. We do not undertake to judge whether it is good or bad, and in any case, it is up to you to draw conclusions.
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How to live in a consumer society
Everything that we said above is of a systemic nature. Being in this system, it is difficult for a person to always lead a meaningful life, not to forget about himself. But still, everyone can influence the state of affairs, of course, not “break the system”, but at least stop being its obedient cog – a person who blindly wanders after the “authorities”.
The following guidelines are useful for adults, adolescents, children and parents, educators, and teachers who want to foster a healthy attitude towards themselves, life, money, goods, and services:
- Live within your means . Try not to go into debt or collect loans. Otherwise, you will simply be an incapable person, incapable of planning, making choices, using your potential, inner freedom and other things given to a person from birth.
- Refuse loans . If you already have them, close them as soon as possible, and refrain from new ones. When planning large purchases, rely only on yourself and your earnings. Take a critical approach to the choice of things – many goods and services are simply imposed on us, and you can live quite comfortably without them.
- Use free resources wisely . It is better to direct money, time and health not to accumulating a heap of fashionable “toys” and trinkets, but to more essential and necessary things: self-development, education, a healthy lifestyle, the development of intelligence and one’s abilities.
- Limit yourself and your loved ones to watching TV . Most of the information is broadcast to us by television. Advertising, many films and serials, television programs introduce into our consciousness the image of what we should have, how we should behave, what to strive for. This, of course, does not apply to everything, and therefore we advise you to simply filter what you and your loved ones are watching.
- Lead by example . When talking with friends and acquaintances, raising children, talk with them about the consumer society. If the flame of awareness burns in you, you can ignite other people with it. Behave accordingly and people (though not all) will follow your example.
- Do something useful . If you wish, you can find a huge number of useful activities: reading, sports, travel, renovation and much more. When you have free time, spend it creating. This is especially true for parents: the leading activity of adults forms the leading activity of children.
- Distribute responsibilities in the family . Each member of the family should have some kind of household responsibilities related to work and bringing benefits. Don’t leave your family members idle to focus their attention on the right things. If it comes to children, then for the successful completion of tasks, they must be encouraged.
- Don’t motivate children with money and buying things . Don’t try to replace love, attention, and care with cash or material rewards for success. A child must achieve something for the sake of personal growth. He must understand that good behavior is not a commodity. Bonuses and incentives must be intangible.
- Form your child’s right attitude to money . Children always notice how the family treats finances, how they are disposed of. Remember that you are setting an example. Money does not need to be idealized and deified, it should be treated rationally and without fanaticism. Then your children will have a healthy attitude towards them.
- Teach children to make money on their own . Best of all, if it is physical work – so that the correct attitude to work is formed. Having even a little experience of independent earnings, the child will understand the importance of education, and will realize that you do not print money, and will learn how to spend money more correctly.
- Take responsibility for your actions . It is only in your hands to make your life better. What you do affects your future. If you want to come to a really worthwhile result, you must understand that it does not depend on the amount of money in your pocket, but on your personal and spiritual development.
These are just a few recommendations, and if you wish, as well as reading thematic literature (Jean Baudrillard, Erich Fromm, and books by other authors), you can find more of them. But all of them, one way or another, will be connected precisely with the fact that a person should stop being a “professional” consumer, and for this, he needs to develop in every possible way, read books, broaden his horizons, communicate with interesting and intelligent people, and learn about the world around him.
The secret of leaving the consumer society is a maximally conscious life, deliberate decisions, actions, and deeds, an accurate understanding of what you want and what is imposed by this very society. We live in a wonderful time and strive for positive changes, and, naturally, we cannot say that progress in all its manifestations and the availability of a huge number of goods and services is definitely bad.
There are a lot of useful and necessary things that make life more comfortable and easier. But this does not mean that we should only rely on them. They should serve as a supplement, but not a substitute for our success, mind, personality, inner peace. Our task is to always think with our own head. And if we manage to preserve the clarity of our thinking, develop and maintain it in our children, we will be able to remain the masters of our lives and ourselves. Reflect on this.