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Why do we overconsume

December 3, 2008

I was at a department store yesterday evening when I overheard a woman say to her friend, “But you just bought a pair of shoes last week. Why are you buying another one?”

Actually I saw nothing unusual about it. US stats show that the average person changes cellphones every 5 months, personal computers every 3 years, cars every 5 years. And then there’s clothes, gadgets and other stuff that we can’t seem to get enough of. But it does get me thinking, what is it that’s leading everyone to overconsume?

Is it because the things people buy don’t last long and break after a short time? Or is it some sense of deprivation that’s causing them to stock up on things just in case the malls go bust tomorrow? Or some kind of fear that they’ll be a lesser person than who they are if they don’t buy all these things?

I don’t know about fashion items but as far as tech stuff is concerned, it seems that whenever a product becomes obsolete, consumption jumps. The rate of change in technology is just amazing. Computers double their power every 18 months. New wireless standards come up every year. Cellphones get more innovative every 3-4 months. There are breakthroughs in electronics every other month, in miniaturization and in capability.

So the electronics junkpile grows as quickly as products render each other obsolete, creating new horror industries like this.

Still, if we buy phones to communicate, its hard to argue with the fact that a 4-year old cellphone works just as well as the snazzy one that just launched yesterday. So why aren’t we all using old faithful?

Looks like we can’t escape the human element in overconsumption. From what I observe, if you live in a place where you are measured by what you possess, overconsumption is “normal.” Competitive or attractive people have the latest. You want to be competitive and attractive. So you buy, buy and buy.

In many ways, I see it as insecurity. The fear that you don’t appear competitive and attractive on your own, without all the dramatic props. Its subtle but powerful enough for the advertising industry to take notice and yes, capitalize on. So the advertisers do what they do – dramatize the difference between the attractive and the unattractive, the clever and the dumb, so you can make informed decisions.

We all have a hand in it. Something to think about when we read reports of how excessive and mindless consumerism is bringing us closer and closer to the edge.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. December 3, 2008 9:58 am

    I used to upgrade my PC every 2 years and I’ve spent a lot there. I also got tempted to change my cell phones every now and then…after all, I’m a technical person.

    But now, maybe because I’m not rich or more money conscious, I think those things can really last me for quite some time. For example, the old PCs which have been abandoned…they just sit around there collecting dust. Now I’ve KIV-ed my new laptop dream (also due to recession) and planning to “resurrect” one of the newer PCs. I can still use it to do a lot of things.

    For phones, I just need to SMS and make phone calls. Do I really need all those fancy fancy things? I used to ‘cheat’ myself in buying the latest phones saying that I need the phone to develop so and so mobile software. Well, now, I’m planning to play around with IPhone toolkit…but I can just make use of the simulator. Don’t need to go n spend few hundreds to buy the phone.

    One really needs to start asking questions like “why do you want?” Are you feeling insecure? Do you want to compete? Do you think you will look superior or cooler? Most importantly…do you really need THAT?

    You got old PCs? Maybe its a good time to pick up Linux if you haven’t already. I would build a private network with servers if I had that, maybe even write some shareware for $$. 🙂

    I suppose if one buys technology for a possible financial return like your iphone project, then its a worthwhile investment. But if its because all your friends bought it, then thats a different story altogether.

  2. December 3, 2008 1:19 pm

    Well Damien,

    We all live just once. Those who can afford it and have the means surely would want to have the latest and the best that there is out there in the market.

    It’s all a matter of finances and availability of funds. One just makes do with what one can afford or die dreaming of whatever it is that one yearned for?

    Not to say that I agree with those who splurge and spend unnecessarily on things that they already own or have but if it is outdated and not working well, (excluding spouses and loved ones, of course), I don’t see why people should hold back from fulfilling their needs and wants ( the halal ones for sure) ?

    I just managed to improve my home with all the gadgets and equipments that I have wished for all these years after getting some funds lately from the efforts of my work in my younger days.

    I am well on my way to reactivating my e-commerce business with the necessary tools of the trade and all the latest communication gadgets ( read new laptop, projector, PDA, etc).

    To me its an investment for my future business needs.

    As for the lady who bought herself a new pair of shoes although she just bought a pair the other week, that’s a natural womanly thing to do!

    She can afford it so she does as she damn well pleases. How else to generate new income and business for the shoe stores and shoe industry?

    I am sure that if Imelda Marcos was to walk in to Suria KLCC’s designer shoe stores, the business owners will lay out the red carpet for her and have their sales associates throw flower petals before her as she strides in to inspect the latest Jimmy Choo’s or whatever?

    Hehehehehe…

    To me, it’s up to the individual. Live life moderately and as one can afford it or die as a scrooge, rotting away in the grave just as he or she suffered unnecessarily on Earth out of their own choice.

    The Prophet (peace be upon him) however chose to live a frugal lifestyle so as not to burden his Ummah ( followers including myself) from living in extravagance and extreme opulence.

    So it differs between the way of the Prophet and us , common beings.

    Its okay to buy ourselves what we can afford once in a while.

    That’s what I think.

    Hi and welcome to my blog. 🙂 Yes, replacing broken items is normal and so is updating certain things, like people who replace old aircons at home with newer models with inverters to lower their electricity bills.

    Wastage is like buying a 3rd or 4th car which one uses to show off, or having 4 digital cameras for no good reason. While buying creates employment (which is good), it can deplete non-renewable natural resources (which is bad). The next generation could be wondering what did we do to leave them nothing.

    I’d recommend balance. Spend if we must but keep our future generation in mind. Its part of the practice of generosity.

  3. LC Teh permalink
    December 3, 2008 2:38 pm

    It was some 6 years ago. A friend told me he and his wife had a combined salary of about RM7000 per month. But he said he’s usually broke or running low by the 3rd week of the month. He asked me how I managed. I said you need to budget.

    I was admiring his brand new cell phone. It was his 5th cell phone in 3 years. He said it cost it RM2000 and had 18 features. He’d been using it for a month. I asked him how many of those features he’d already used. He said four; call/receive calls, send/receive sms, reminders, alarm.

    I said used all those 4 features too but mine cost only RM250.

    That was only one example of excess I pointed out to him. Correction, he pointed it out himself. I hi-lited it for him.

    People know their own faults. They just can’t help themselves. A lot of the ‘now’ generation are in this trap.

    The world seems to be running on an overheated generator. It needs an overhaul. This one seems like a major overhaul.

    Yeah, the choices are greater than ever before and instead of simplifying life, its made it more complicated. With shiny pictures, we desire to try each item. Maybe that’s why I seldom go to restaurants with menus 20 pages long. I prefer the one with only 1 page, hehe. 😀

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