Consumerism


About 12 years ago, I bought a television.  This was back before the days of high definition 1080p flat screen 3D LED television.  This TV was a 32 inch Sony Trinitron – today’s electronic equivalent to a Cadillac Eldorado circa 1985.  I’m sure you remember those – if you’re like me, you may even have a couple lying around the house (the TVs, not the Cadillac).  Let me refresh your memory in case you forgot.  The old Trinitrons were overweight, consumed too much energy, and took up way too much space – I guess they were kind of like the typical American.

Over the years, we have replaced all of our televisions with much lighter, slimmer, and energy conscious (not to mention better performing) flat screens.  This creates a dilemma – what to do with the old televisions?  If you haven’t moved an old tube television in while, I would encourage you to consult your physician before attempting to do so.  I don’t know what “Trinitron” means, but I think it has something to do with using the core of the sun as an internal component because those TVs weigh more than a rhinoceros with a thyroid condition.

I took the old television out of our bedroom and made it all the way to the back porch.  There it has been for the past six weeks taunting me.  “You replaced me – now what are you going to do?  I’m just going to sit here and plague your conscious until you figure out your next step.”

I briefly thought about trying to sell it, but quickly realized that was probably unreasonable.  That thought was confirmed when I tried to give it away.  I asked several people if they wanted it and there were no takers.  Then I thought I would just throw it away. 

Turns out I can’t “just throw it away.”  The television contains hazardous materials (maybe I was right about the core of the sun thing) and must be taken to a dump where I have to pay for it to be properly disposed.  I don’t want to lift that thing up and drive out of my way to pay money just to get rid of it, so it remains on my back porch… smirking.

I don’t recall what I paid for that television 12 years ago, but I do remember that when I first got it, I thought it was great.  Here we are 12 years later and it is a piece of junk.  Actually, it’s less than a piece of junk – if it were a piece of junk, at least I could throw it away.  Now I have nice, new televisions and I think they’re great.  In 12 years, those too may be worthless.

Here’s the lesson learned here.  I like my new TVs.  I liked my old one when I got it.  They were things that I desired… things I worked to earn money to buy… things that I thought would somehow enhance my life.  All it takes is a few years and those things we desire turn into trash. 

Jim Elliot once said, “He is not a fool who gives that which he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.”  What are the things that you desire?  If you desire the things that you cannot keep, you will only continue to desire.  If you desire the things that you cannot lose, you will eventually find fulfillment.

Sara started a yoga class after work on Monday nights, so I picked up the girls and cooked up a daddy dinner – corn dogs AND fish sticks, yum!  Everything was going well – I got their hands washed, managed to keep them occupied while “cooking”, and remembered to put their nuclear corndogs on their plates early so that they weren’t five thousand degrees when the girls bit into them.

Then I made my mistake.  I had one of those instances where I asked a question and realized while I was asking it that it was a big mistake, but for some reason could not seem to stop.  I asked the seemingly benevolent question, “What do you want to drink?”  The problem with that question is about halfway through it I realized that the only thing we had in the fridge was milk. 

In the quiet seconds before they answered, I kept hoping, “Say milk, say milk, say milk.”

Amelia was the first to answer.  “Lemolade.”  This, of course, is three year-old for lemonade.

“I’m sorry, Amelia, we don’t have lemonade.  We only have milk.”

“Juice.”

“We don’t have juice.”

“Juice!”

“We don’t have juice.”

Crying.

“How about some milk?”

More crying.

What’s interesting about this is there never would have been a problem if I had just put milk on the table.  My mistake was to offer a choice when no choice was necessary.  What was I thinking?  She’s just three.  She doesn’t need to have input on every decision.  That’s too much authority for such a young child and I believe it’s unhealthy.

If you don’t believe me, just spend some time at a Wal-Mart or Target.  It won’t take long before you see a kid in the middle of an all out tantrum because they wanted the SpongeBob toothpaste, not the Dora toothpaste.

Why do we offer so many choices?  I think it’s because we have so many choices.  We think we owe it to our families, our coworkers, and ourselves to offer up a plethora of options on everything from PCs to a cup of coffee (I still have no idea how to order coffee at Starbucks). 

I’m going to try an experiment.  I’m going to stop offering so many choices and just give my kids what I think they should have (isn’t that a parental responsibility anyway?).  I know this will lead to a lot of whining initially, but I have a feeling that limited choices today may lead to fewer tantrums in the future.  I’m not going to prevent them from making any decisions.  I’m just going to put some limitations on them.

By the way, this might not be a bad idea for self-management either.  It seems to me that most of the things we make decisions about aren’t the things we need anyway.

spongebob1

 

I recently read an article in Best Life magazine that discussed the pervasiveness of marketing to children. Boy was it scary! The article stated that toddlers as young as 2 years old will ask for a particular brand of food or toy based on the advertisements they see while watching cartoons. Think about that. We’re teaching our children consumerism before they are even out of diapers! It’s no wonder that our society is so consumer-centric. We are bombarded with branding before we can say the alphabet. In the past 25 years, marketing to children has grown from $100 million a year in holiday ads to $17 billion in a year round quest to fill our children’s minds with licensed characters and branding.

As a kid, I was a big Star Wars fan (ok, I still am). This was one of the first large-scale attempts to combine on-screen entertainment with merchandising. I spent countless hours recreating scenes from the movies with my action figures… thank goodness George Lucas didn’t have access to computer animation in 1977.

Now the whole idea of branding has gone to the extreme. It no longer consists of just movies and action figures, but now includes clothing, toothbrushes, Band-Aids, web sites, DVDs, furniture, video games, Happy Meals, etc. Kids can even go on ToucanSam.com where they can play games and watch cartoon clips while being immersed in the sugar-laden branding of Fruit Loops. Think about that dangerous loop. Kids see an ad on TV, go online and play games, and see more ads online, some of which direct them back to television. This is a complete immersion in marketing and consumerism.

Think about the implications this has on our kids. Just the other night, my three year old daughter got upset because we left her Dora the Explorer toothpaste at Grandma’s house. She was forced to use her Thomas the Train toothpaste, which apparently is all of the sudden inferior. This seems harmless enough now, but she is only three! Fifteen years from now, she may be throwing a tantrum because she had to settle for a Chevy when she had her marketing induced mind set on a BMW. Who am I kidding? Chevy won’t be around in 15 years, but that’s a different story. And if you think you can avoid this trouble by limiting non-branded items, think again. Just try to make a trip to Wal-Mart or Target to buy household items for your kids without licensed images pasted all over them and you will quickly find that your options are limited.

When I was a kid, I wanted a Millennium Falcon because it was in the movie and Han Solo was pretty cool. Now, kids want I-Phones without even understanding what an I-Phone is. Does a ten year old really need to have streaming stock quotes? Of course not; they just want something cool that other kids will envy.

Now I hope that if your 10 year-old asks for an I-Phone, you shoot that request down promptly. But think about the example you set. Did you really need that 128,000 Btu grill with booster rockets and GPS or would something a little more reasonable suffice?