Life as the Endless Consumer
I think of the word consumer as bad. To me it stirs up images of McDonalds, obesity, crowded McMansions and televisions. I spend most of my time running from the consumer label, but the faster I run, the more I realize that it is impossible to escape. Almost every decision that we make has been commercialized; we have been segmented and targeted by unassuming men holed up in marketing departments. No matter what choices we make, we fit some sort of mold and the notion of individuality slips further from our grasp.
Everyday we must make decisions, some are easy and some are more challenging. We know immediately when we get out of bed that we will walk to the bathroom and brush our teeth with some Crest Toothpaste and then use our Keurig to make some Starbucks coffee. These decisions are almost thoughtless for us, but even these simple morning routines are representative of a larger commercialized reality.
Making Big Decisions
At this point in our society, some decisions still require active thought. I would categorize these as big decisions, things such as where to work and where to live. Granted, not everybody has the luxury of making such choices, but for those who do, they choices can be daunting.
Let's just consider the idea of choosing a place to live and imagine that it is an independent choice and that we can choose anywhere. You might at first be really happy that you have so many choices, but when you think more you realize that whatever you choose will come to represent you as a consumer.
San Francisco, Paris, London, Sydney, Nebraska, Alaska, Hawaii: all of these places represent something different. You will have to think long and hard before you make a choice, but that choice ultimately will help to define you further as a consumer.
Choice Creates Anxiety
Even choice itself is a paradox. We all think that we want more options so that we can make sure we choose something that's really the best, but when presented with a seemingly unlimited number of choices, we feel unhappy. The more options we have, the more likely we are to feel regretful for having not chosen a particular thing and the more we will worry about whether or not we are making the right choice. There probably is always a "best" choice, but finding it can elicit so much stress.
People are actually happiest when they have no choices because they are most willing to accept whatever the condition is that they are given. In many ways this runs counter to the notions of freedom and free will. So we cannot eliminate choices; to do so would run against the common will of our society.
Searching for Happiness
So what do we do? Everyday new brands are created and more things are commercialized and as a result, the number of choices that we have is ever increasing. At the same time, our satisfaction is decreasing for the same reason. But an attempt to reduce choice may put us on the path towards an autocratic society.
I believe that the main purpose in life is to find happiness. The more clutter there is in the world, the harder that happiness is to find. It seems that the key is becoming independent of consumerism, but I'm not sure that we as a society know how.