Wednesday, 11 September 2013

Spaceship Earth

Richard Heap, creator of the documentary, "Consumed" tells us that "By the age of 20, the average westerner has seen one million commercial messages". Ouch. Tell me that doesn't affect who we are and how we think.

My husband and I have no TV, avoid non-public service radio (getting our news from New Zealand's public service radio station, National Radio), have "no junk mail" on our PO Box, yet I know we still see a LOT of ads. If I am watching a TV programme online, it will be broken up into segments and I will have to endure the ads in order to see it. When I am on any webpage, I will see ads. We watch movies full of product placements, we see Billboards when driving, see liveried cars, uniforms and shop signage. Everywhere we go we will see brands, often with human beings as mobile billboards showing those brands off. Including my own car, I might add!!

Our advertising-oriented society is driving us to consume: we are subliminally bombarded with messages telling us that we will be bigger, higher, stronger when we buy product X.

Now we all know that product X will only be a fleeting fix (if X works at all). But we humans seem almost lemming-like in frantically following this buy-buy-buy mantra. New clothes, new electronics, new, new, new...

My husband and I try to be realistic in limiting our consumption. We try to make better choices; we read ebooks and ezines instead of printed copies, and buy paper books second-hand (and I actually prefer electronic books these days); grow veges and herbs; bottle our surpluses and in-season produce; recycle; generate our own power and hot water; drink our rainwater. We are lucky enough to have the space to grow our own trees for firewood, to warm us in the winter.

I am also lucky enough to work from home three days a week. My husband isn't and has to commute 30ks to and from work each day. On my two lecturing days I drive 45ks to and from work. While my husband and I share the ride on my lecturing days, and all the shopping and 'town' jobs are done then, there is a fair bit of consumption in the fuel consumed in those journeys. My husband rides his motorbike in summer to keep the fuel consumption down, but realistically the bike uses only a little less than my wee "Nana" car (Diahatsu Sirion 1300).

As well, I have an archilles heel. I love new tech stuff. While I do try to make each thing last as long as possible, and upgrade only when forced to (because of failure; or because the old technology will no longer work with the new and sell the old ones on when I upgrade), I get a new PC every three years or so. I have a Kindle, an iPod, and memory sticks and external harddrives for Africa. In some areas I am fairly restrained: I have only had three laptops since 1997, and my current one was only bought this year (and it is LOVELY - an Acer Aspire S7).

So why am I talking about all this? Why is this worrying me? The Canadian philosopher and futurist, Marshall McLuhan, said "There are no passengers on Spaceship Earth. We are all crew" (McLuhan, 1965, in reference to Fuller's 1963 "Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth", as cited by Vallero, 2005, p. 367).

If we keep consuming as we are in the west, and as the eastern and developing nations want "what she's having" at what feels like an increasingly frenetic pace, I worry that our closed system is going to overload.

What acts of leadership are necessary to correct that?

  • Heap, Richard (2011). Consumed. UK: Journeyman Pictures & Slackjaw Film.
  • Vallero, Daniel A. (2005). Paradigms Lost: Learning from Environmental Mistakes, Mishaps and Misdeeds. UK: Elsevier


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