Consumerism as a Global Issue
What is the consumer society? How does it differ from other social formations? It seems that people have always bought and sold, possessed something, spent money, and always wanted to live in wealth and luxury. So why only modern society is associated with the concept of consumption? It is viewed through the prism of consumerism not because people eat better than their predecessors, not because they dispose of a large number of technical means, and finally, not because they meet all their needs.
The degree of being satisfied is the main condition of consumption occurrence. A huge industry that produces not only goods but also the demand for goods, thousands of brands, trademarks, crowded shops in the cities, where almost every wall is advertising everything possible, tens of thousands of people employed in the manufacturing industry – this is the characteristic of the present era — the consumer era. Consumption is a symbolic substance, which is not the ability to buy the advertised product but the desire to do so. This paper focuses on modern consumerism problems as one of the global issues; it analyzes the ways to change the consumer behavior to reduce the negative impact on environment and society.
Consumerism is considered as a disease and even the term “consumerism syndrome” is used. This syndrome is spreading within the society; it is the state of satiety, anxiety, and devastation, that appears as the result of a stubborn pursuit of new acquisitions. Consumerism is a socio-cultural system, where social identity is based not on employment and production but outside the work, primarily, on entertainment. Earlier, social stratification was based on the social system of labor division, but nowadays, body, clothes, cars, and vacations speaks about the lifestyle level. Ideals and values are no longer worth and have become the empty signs; people are immersed in a surreal world of signs, which they believe will bring social prestige and happiness. Together with the market value of goods, there is also the sign-value. The culture of consumption has a system of codes, deciphering the value of things.
Speaking about the consumer behavior, the Veblen effect should be mentioned. Consumers perceive the reduction of prices as a signal to lowering the quality or prestige of goods; however, if the price increases, it makes the product more attractive for people. This type of consumer behavior is abnormal because it contradicts the fundamental law of demand, according to which a increase price of goods leads to a decrease of consumption. All Veblen goods relate to the premium segment, and with the growth of prices on them, the desire of the target audience to buy them grows as well. Consumers, experiencing Veblen effect, focuse on the acquisition of such goods, which would testify to their high social status. The clearest example is the works of contemporary art. The “must have” new gadgets such as iPhones are also the example of mass abnormal consumer behavior. There are plenty of new technological products, without which humanity can live, but still want to buy them because it is fashionable and trendy. For example, Coin Changer — a small device for the distribution of coins; Spice Track is an appliance, equipped with the tubes with herbs and spices.
People need to know how to consume in such a way that it may minimize social inequality, too. One of the easiest strategies is to simplify the holidays, such as Valentine’s Day. Gifts should have meaning and carry love and care, not only be one more valuable stuff. The value of a present must be determined not by its cost. For example, handmade presents are gifts for all occasions; it is not only a unique work that keeps a piece of love and is valuable not because of money, but also it lessens social disparity. However, some people may be afraid that others will perceive such presents as greediness or lack of money to give something valuable.
A very interesting strategy for improving consumer behavior is the so-called sharing economy. Girls often borrow shoes, dresses, handbags from each other, children take their parents’ cars, friends rent an appartment together. Each year a number of projects and people, involved in sharing economy, increase. Free space in a car, a spare room, unused machines or tools, unlimited Wi-Fi can be used by someone else, too. The list of goods and services that people most willingly share, consists of renting an appartment, joint travel, transportation, tools for tourism products, and, of course, joint Wi-Fi. If a person has something extra that he or she does not use, why not offering it to others? Sharing economy is the economy of abundance, not the economy of insufficiency. All commercial advertisements are built on the same principle: they suggest that people do not have enough health, beauty, leisure, luxury, freedom, and then offer goods to compensate for this deficiency. Sharing economy is arranged in a different way: people realize that they have something extra, and they share it. It helps to feel freer, happier, and feel prosperity. One of the barriers to sharing economy is people’s selfishness, greediness, and a reluctance to share your property with others. Older generation is also less open to joint consumption. They have a practical view on things: they are afraid that others will break a machine or another thing; they always think about frauds and scams, as they do not trust the strangers. For those who are 20-23, sharing economy is not a problem, but they have no money. When they will be 25-28, it will be the next step in the development of the sharing economy. Psychologically, the level of confidence will be higher. The new generation grows up in a global world, with Internet and without borders.
It is also very important to teach a new generation the conscious consumption. First of all, children should see a positive example and true values; children have to understand that the world is full of wonderful experiences, even if a person is wearing old jeans. Parents should not use material things to encourage or reward their kids. Joint leisure walk, impressions, talk, and hugs are much more valuable things. Conscious consumption involves critical thinking. Both parents and children must understand that excessive consumption of clutters and pollutes the planet; unwanted clothes, cosmetics, accessories, furnishings, and equipment end up their existance in the landfills. Everyone must know the marketing techniques and what methods marketers use to make people want something. People should be aware of these methods and not lose their identity, unconsciously buying unnecessary things.
When speaking about conscious consumerism, Ray Anderson as a pioneer in “green business” has to be mentioned. He proved to the world that sustainable business is not an invention of environmentalists but the reality that all entrepreneurs should follow. The production of consumer goods is a key factor in environmental pollution. It is known that carpet production requires huge resources, fossil fuels, and generates large amounts of waste. Ray gathered his colleagues and ordered a new mission of their company—to achieve zero pollution to 2020, focusing on energy efficiency, renewable energy, and recycling. Thus, they have to reduce costs by 50%, increase sales and profits.
Global problems of mankind is a set of problems and situations that affect the vital interests of all peoples all over the world. The solution of these problems depends on further progress of mankind and preserving civilization. Global problems of humanity are interconnected, covering all aspects of people’s lives, applicable to all countries and populations, regarding both the land and the oceans, the atmosphere of the planet and space. They lead to major economic and social losses. Population as a very important global issue along with other environmental problems that have a great influence on humanity. The world population is growing, and biosphere is changing dramatically, influenced by human activities, such as production of goods and unconscious consumerism.
The attack of technosphere is accompanied by significant changes in the environment, too. There is a rapid, progressive destruction of basic vital parts of biosphere, which may cause its complete destruction. It automatically means the destruction of population, because people can not exist in an environment, different from that, in which they emerged and lived. However, the process of environmental education of population has been activated recently; important international agreements on environmental protection have been signed. The ways of international cooperation in achieving high environmental quality and quality of human life are also being discussed.
To sum up, consumerism is a hypertrophied form of consumption culture, which, in turn, is closely related to the mentality of people, from generation to generation. The elements of the culture of consumption, as well as culture in general, are the values and norms, which are formed in family in the process of socialization. Well-advertised brands mesmerize consumers, especially if those brands are well-known and used by famous successful people. Consumer behavior has a huge impact on people’s lives and environment. So, people should review and change their consumer behavior and lighten an impact on environment without compromising the quality of life.