Consumerism: America’s Growing Problem

Adam Varsa

Consumption is a part of human nature. In today’s day and age, consumption is what drives many of our actions. Think of a time you have seen an advertisement and bought the advertised item. Did you think about why you were buying it? Or did you simply see it in the advertisement and thought, “wow, this product seems incredible. I must get my hands on it at once!” Too many of us have fallen prey to the hypnotic pull of these adverts. But why do corporations and their products interest us so much? Consumer culture is so deeply rooted in our society that it is nearly impossible to escape the norm of constantly buying. Corporations and advertisers spend millions every year figuring out how to induce customers into a purchase. Advertisements are everywhere. According to Statistica, “Global mobile ad spending is projected to reach $413 billion by 2024.” This speaks to the extent to which businesses are shifting their models to advertise to consumer culture. The exposure theory of attraction states that the more we see something, the more we will become conditioned to have a positive attitude toward that thing. Advertisers know this. They exploit our root psychology to coerce us into buying more. Mindless consumption seems like it would not be a huge problem. Why would we stop buying things we want? It is our money that we earned, after all. However, people everywhere are beginning to realize that material possessions do not bring true happiness. Mindless consumption always leads to excess consumption. So why are we convinced that objects would answer all our problems?

Consumerism, at its root, is a social issue. Often, we buy items because we believe they will raise our social status, placing appearance over practicality. Think of people who buy fake designer goods. In most cases, the buyer is aware that the product is a low-quality knockoff. Despite this, people still buy fakes. Generally, they do not do this for themselves. If they wanted the product itself, they would save up for the authentic product. They do it so that people can admire their “designer” items. With these perceived designer products, the buyers receive attention and the status that comes along with the item’s brand. They can save their money and keep the social status that the real product would give them.

The advertisement industry takes advantage of people who have not learned how to think critically. Unfortunately, the number of people who use this ability has been decreasing rapidly. A study by the Reboot Foundation showed that only about 29% of students were instructed on critical thinking while in school. About 80% of participants say that young people lack the ability to engage in critical thinking. Young people are impressionable, which makes them more likely to buy goods without thinking about why. The new generation has become so accustomed to living in a consumer society that we do not stop to think about the detrimental effects of such a society.

So, what can we do to escape this seemingly endless loop of purchasing? Most of the effort comes from recognizing the problem. Think about the values that matter to you most. Will buying a product work towards reinforcing these values? Do the possessions you own end up owning you? Are you happy? Or is there another way, a better way?