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Sun Jan 20, 2013, 08:51 AM

 

On our consumer culture.

The numbers are shocking. The average consumer buys a new car every three years, a new computer likewise, a new cellphone, every eighteen months, a new tablet computer, every single year. This is just the tip of the iceberg. Americans are buying more and more stuff, to the point where a lot of households can't fit a car into their garage, and 35 million of us have to rent out a storage unit!

Now, in some cases, such as household appliances, these lifespans are driven by built in obsolescence. While my mother's mixer has lasted since her wedding day over sixty years ago(with its steel gears and parts), my sister has to pick up a new mixer every ten years because something(plastic gears and parts) breaks and it is cheaper to buy new than repair it. Built in obsolescence does drive part of this problem.

But what is driving it the most is our consumer culture that we are awash in. Most people are bathed in corporate propaganda from the moment we get up in the morning to the minute we go to sleep at night. In fact the pace of advertising has picked up with every new technological breakthrough. And while people like to think that they are free from the influence of this corporate propaganda, that they are their own person, the figures belie that belief. The fact of the matter is that very few of us can resist that siren song to buy, Buy BUY!

The kicker in all of this consumption is just how wasteful it all is. Sure, an individual cell phone has only a couple of grams of rare earth material in it, but multiply that by a half a billion, the number of cell phones currently in use in the US, and then multiply that by a few more billion, the number of cell phones sitting in landfills across the US. That's a tremendous amount of tonnage of rare earth elements that are simply being wasted, a shame because mining rare earth elements is a hugely polluting endeavor.

Another consideration is the energy required to manufacture each item, and when you toss that item in exchange for another, all that energy that went into the manufacture of it gets tossed too, wasted. But wait, what about recycling? A nice idea in principle, but in practice recycling has a long way to go. While cars are efficiently recycled, electronics aren't. Only ten percent of cell phones are recycled, and just eighteen percent of computers. Household appliance recycling is negligible, as are other consumer electronics like DVD players and stereo system components.

All that waste is not just wasted energy, but also a major environmental hazard. Exposure to the elements soon leads to nasty chemicals leaching out of those products and into the ground, where they poison the earth and eventually the water. Let's not forget good ol' ubiquitous plastic, that never, ever goes away.

The other cost is the sheer amount of increase of energy consumption that is required to power our modern lifestyle. Since 1960, the amount of energy used annually per capita has tripled, Yes, the amount of energy consumed by individual items, refrigerators, cars, cell phones, has decreased. But the simple fact of the matter is that this energy conserving efficiency has been far offset by the sheer amount of devices that an individual uses. Twenty years ago, ereaders and tablet computers were the stuff of Star Trek, and hardly any household boasted a cell phone or computer. Now, the average household has at least one cell phone per person, a desktop computer, a laptop computer, and some sort of tablet device. The sheer number of devices that people feel that they absolutely need is what is leading to the ever increasing amount of energy that we use.

This is all simply madness, what in light of huge looming problems that climate change and pollution in general are causing. Here we are, essentially throwing more fuel on the fire as we burn our own house down, for what? To have the latest gizmo, and that stylish new cell phone. So we can tote around some device that keeps us hooked to our television programs all the time, so we can watch American Idol in line at the store or sitting in traffic. So we can carry that sleek new Kindle Fire(that we've already tossed the regular Kindle overboard for) instead of a paper book(which biodegrades over time).

If we want to get a handle on these problems of climate change and pollution, it means that we're each going to have to become conscious of our purchases, and when making considering a purchase, that we put the earth first. Do you really need that Kindle or Nook? Or a smartphone instead of a dumb one? Is it really necessary to have a desktop, laptop and tablet computer? These are the questions and considerations we each have to make with our purchasing power. It is time for us to stop being dumb consumers moved by the latest corporate propaganda to buy, Buy, BUY and instead become wise citizens who put the earth first. If not, then future generations, if there are any, are going to damn us for essentially fiddling while the world burned.

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Reply On our consumer culture. (Original post)
MadHound Jan 2013 OP
Bluenorthwest Jan 2013 #1
MadHound Jan 2013 #5
ananda Jan 2013 #2
brewens Jan 2013 #3
Honeycombe8 Jan 2013 #4
Mnemosyne Jan 2013 #6
raouldukelives Jan 2013 #7
smirkymonkey Jan 2013 #8

Response to MadHound (Original post)

Sun Jan 20, 2013, 09:14 AM

1. Are those buying habits you relate your own or what?

"R.L. Polk, which collects and measures data in the automotive industry like Nielsen records our television habits, says that we're now keeping our cars longer than we ever have. According to Polk's study of registration data, Americans are keeping new cars for an average 63.9 months five-and-a-quarter years up 4.5 months from the same period in 2009. We're keeping used cars longer, too. The average length of ownership for a used car is 46.1 months, up 3.7 months from the same period in 2009. Data for new and used cars combined sees an average length of ownership to 52.2 months."
http://www.boston.com/cars/newsandreviews/overdrive/2011/02/resisting_new_car_purchases_ca.html

Average length of new car ownership is 5.25 years, not 3. It is on the increase, not the decrease.

Tablets, well, only about 30% of consumers own one at all and that's counting e-readers as well. So 'the average consumer' is not replacing them each year, the average consumer does not own one....70% of Americans do not own one. Of course, more and more are buying them, but this idea that 'most Americans' are tossing one after the other is not correct.
Just saying. 5.25 is not 3. And so on.

Editing to add a link to actual stats about the number of homes owning a computer and also the number of homes owning more than one such device. Only about 15% own 3 or more...
http://www.statista.com/statistics/187606/average-number-of-computers-per-household-in-the-united-states/

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Response to Bluenorthwest (Reply #1)

Sun Jan 20, 2013, 10:54 AM

5. No, those are actually up to date numbers, from last year,

 

Not from two, three, seven years ago as the links you've posted are.

My actual stats are much larger. Both vehicles are fifteen years old, my one computer is ten years old, no cell phone, no tablet, etc.

I think that you are using slightly different stats than I am, posing somewhat different questions. For instance my question is when does a person get a new car, your question is about length of car ownership. Either way, three years or five and a quarter, that is still far too short of a time.

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Response to MadHound (Original post)

Sun Jan 20, 2013, 09:27 AM

2. I guess I'm not the average consumer.

I like to keep my car till it goes into the lemon phase. With a Honda that takes about ten years at least.

I've had my MacBook for nearly five years, and I will keep it much longer if I can.

My iPhone 3GS at $26/mo with no plan from Consumer Cellular works just fine and does everything I need it to. I do not plan to change it out unless it dies.

My iPad2 is great and does everything I need it to. I might consider changing to the smaller version at some point for reading purposes, but no rush.

Life is good.

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Response to MadHound (Original post)

Sun Jan 20, 2013, 09:32 AM

3. I recently retired a General Electric can opener. I don't remember another one as a kid.

I know we had it by 1965. That baby really cranked! More than once I had people freak at how loud and powerful it was. I wonder if I can have it repaired. I wouldn't be surprised. I'm just using and old school hand powered one also from my parents stuff.

http://www.etsy.com/listing/115460523/cool-vintage-1960s-general-electric-can

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Response to MadHound (Original post)

Sun Jan 20, 2013, 09:42 AM

4. Madhound, how true all that is.

What I was struck by during the recession, when all those people were losing their homes...some who were losing their EXPENSIVE, very nice, large homes....had everything they wanted. A large home, nice cars, credit cards, electronics, large flat screen tvs. So how is it they didn't consider what would happen if they lost their jobs? How is it that they had all that stuff and not money in a savings account for emergencies?

My niece...in college, working...she had a smart phone on a contract (probably a family share plan), and a brand new car (altho an inexpensive one). She also had a laptop. WTF? I was a working adult....and I still used an old desktop computer, I had a prepaid pay as you go flip phone, and I drove an old car that I paid off (from new) years before. (I now have a laptop, a new inexpensive car when my old one went bad, and a new cell phone....but it's still a prepaid pay as you go, altho it's touch screen AND it doesn't work as well as my old flip phone!)

Stuff. People just fall for all the ads, and I can understand that. You're not cool unless you have a smartphone, or the newest tablet, or an Apple product, or a nice new car, or whatever.

Once I realized how bad it was. I was sitting at home watching TV. There was a commercial on TV, while my phone was recording a telemarketing caller, and a salesman was banging on my door. When I retrieved my mail, it was from more people trying to get me to spend my hard earned dollars on their stuff.

Stuff. When you lose your job, and you look around at all the stuff you have in your house, you realize all the wasteful spending you've done. All the trashy knicknacks, all the dishes you'll never use, the several computers you have, the car that guzzles gas.

There is a good movie that touches on this. It's Jack Lemmon in Save the Tiger. He's middle aged and loses his job or something. He doesn't tell his wife, as his life nosedives. At one point, he picks up a knicknack at home and says to wife or just generally, "Why do we have all this stuff?" He realizes the money they'd spent on unnecessary stuff was wasteful, and he wishes, no doubt, he had that money in the bank.

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Response to MadHound (Original post)

Sun Jan 20, 2013, 10:58 AM

6. Hear, hear! Excellent analysis, Madhound. nt

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Response to MadHound (Original post)

Sun Jan 20, 2013, 11:20 AM

7. And many of them generate that income from Wall St & investments.

Completing the circle. Guaranteeing the one thing they will leave to the children when they pass on is an unstable climate, massive animal extinctions and death and misery for millions. But, you know, they can't be bothered to think about that kinda stuff when their nose is crammed up the posterior of the nearest middle manager and the mantra of year over year growth is a siren call that deafens any liberal instincts.

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Response to MadHound (Original post)

Sun Jan 20, 2013, 12:53 PM

8. K&R

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