Walking around Tate Modern in London, an installation made by Cildo Meireles, Babel, caught my attention. I found an impressive tower, built out of hundreds of radios, that interestingly helps to visualise the idea of consumerism. The Biblical Babel was intended to reach up to heaven. At the same time, it has become a symbol of arrogance of humans who wanted to get closer to God. The Meireles’ XXI century version of Babel, to some extent, replaced God with the goal of possession.
We tend to mindlessly go through life. Not only surrounding ourselves with material things but, also, we are constantly captivated by what we see on screen. Whether it is scrolling through our phones or watching television, we are regularly bombarded by information that is not always true or relevant. And, although social media can be a fantastic and easily accessible source of information that can help us keep up with the world, we often do not analyse the information we consume. We also buy certain things strictly because of social media. Most brands are active on social media making sure they are visible to their customers. It is undoubtedly a feeding mechanism that almost forces us to buy more.
But we should not feel entirely guilty, as marketing has a much bigger control over us than we think. It is largely dependent on brands to increase awareness among its customers. We can try to consume less and do it with more awareness, but it seems impossible to stop the consumption and still live a “regular” life – living off-grid seems simply unrealistic, especially on a large scale. As with many things, extreme change in the way we use available resources can be discouraging, and many people will choose the easier option, to stay the same. Moreover, marketing techniques make it even harder for us to change our buying habits. Greendex research says that consumers’ awareness does not affect their buying habits in a significant way (2014). But marketing does.
Some argue that even education has become consumerist. Educational institutions have become businesses that are there to meet the demands of creating a consumerist society, fulfilling its expectations and demands of producing the right consumerists- get a job, buy a house and spend money on things we don’t need.
Keeping that in mind, I think, as in many cases, education can be the way to fight the problem. After all, the more aware we are, the better choices we make so one could say that managing our consumerism starts with learning. No matter whether it is about the thoughtless consumption of information or material things, a certain level of awareness gives us the ability to think critically and stop absent-minded consumption. An interesting question is whether by managing the material type of consumerism on the personal level, we can achieve an actual change.
Even though we cannot get rid of consumerist habits completely, I do believe that there is an answer to the problem. Making small changes and more aware decisions is more valuable and more attainable for most. And, luckily, the awareness is growing. More and more people decide to resign from certain material pleasures, worrying that the world’s resources will run out.
– Malgorzata Rudnicka