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Can we finally reject being defined as “Consumers?”

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How about “citizens” or “persons”? Maybe not “fleshists.”

Must everything in U.S. life be about ingesting?

Eating. Watching TV. Shopping. Listening to music. Watching movies. Amassing tablets and apps that allow us to consume more and faster and on-the-go. Talking about what we are eating/watching/buying. These are our pastimes. These are the things that define us. None are bad, many are necessary, but should they be at or near the core of our essence?

Is this why we landed on the planet?SoapFactory-2-05072014

I like all these things as much as anyone, if not more. But I wonder if my rush to consume has blinded me to other definition-inducing activities? Consuming is good for brand managers because they can play on this emotive, definitional piece of life and squeeze money from our attempts to be a certain kind of person. We buy this car or those dungarees or those shoes (or watch that show) because of certain aspirational desires. If we own that property, then we become that person. Yes?

In Cognitive Surplus, Clay Shirky makes the cogent point that watching TV is very like a full-time job for many of us. It consumes our hours outside of work like nothing else. I understand why: many of us are so busy at work, spending so many hours, stressed about so much that all we can muster—all we can look forward to—are those blessed, mind-numbing moments on the couch before the screen.

I’m right there. That’s me, too.

Shirky’s book goes on to point out example after example of people banding together in groups small and very, very large to accomplish things that would not otherwise exist. Wikipedia comes to mind, along with open-source software. As social media allows us to connect, I wonder if our collaborative selves will beckon us from the couch more and more often. It’s not some new magic of social media I’m talking about, it’s the very old and known quantity of human connection. Relationship stuff has always motivated our species.

But we’ll need to step away from constant movement and blessed numbness to get back to seeing ourselves as co-creators and collaborators. Relationship-builders rather than consumers.


Image credit: Kirk Livingston

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