Stuff Build-Up

Part 4 – “The Story of Stuff” Series

Estimates are each US citizen is bombarded with up to three thousand commercial messages a day given all the TV ads (interrupting our shows at a piercing decibel level), billboards, product placement on shows, packaging, computer ads (search engines, newsfeeds, Facebook), radio ads and more.  The average American child sees 110 TV commercials a day.  Some say viewing five additional hours of TV per week will result in spending another thousand a year.

As encouraged, we tend to buy and accumulate Stuff.  Accumulating more Stuff means we need to work more, leaving less time to spend with family and friends. This cycle can lead to feelings of isolation, depression and exhaustion making it easy to decompress in front of the TV where commercials tell people to go shopping, so they do, a vicious cycle Annie Leonard (“Story of Stuff”) calls the “work-watch-spend treadmill”.

Why are advertisements so powerful?  In the 1960s, advertisers enlisted psychologists and neuroscientists to determine the best way to influence shoppers.  They strive to convince consumers they are lacking something so they will buy something to feel better.  More frequently, in lieu of describing the product, they associate it with a desirable image, lifestyle or social status.

During the 1920s and 1930s more consumption was generated by planned obsolescence.  This is when the buyer is convinced to own something a little newer, better, or sooner than necessary.  The quicker products are thrown away and replaced, the better.  Appliances and electronics were priced in such a way they were cheaper to replace.  With instant obsolescence comes disposable goods and with perceived obsolescence comes changing fashions and styles.

Seductive advertising, easy credit, obsolescence, keeping the public ignorant about the hazards of thousands of chemicals in the interest of “progress”, and keeping people watching TV and so busy working they don’t notice what’s going on all contributes to the accumulation of Stuff.

In the United States our standard measure of success is the gross domestic product, or GDP.  Our goal is simply growth, above all else, with no concern about unequal or unfair distribution of wealth or if our citizens are happy and satisfied.  Annie Leonard reports North American and Western Europe, 12% of the population, consume 60% of the goods, whereas one third of the world population consumes only 3.2 percent. Developing countries strive to consume just like us, whereas poorer countries “need” to consume more.  Global Footprint Network calculates we are already annually consuming 1.4 times what the earth generates in a year.  That means we are using up Stuff future generations will need!

The Story of Stuff Series

Part I – “My Beloved Stuff”

Part 2 – “The Costs of Stuff”

Part 3 – “Bring on the Stuff”

Part 4 – “Stuff Build-Up”

Part 5 – “Stuff Becomes Trash”

Part 6 – “Consumer Treadmill Pause”

Part 7 – “Healthier Consumer Practices”


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