Addiction, consumption and consumerism


When the word “addict” gets used, the first thing that often comes to mind is an image of a stereotypical drug abuser, wearing a long trench coat and hiding in an alley waiting to sell youth any drug that their vulnerable young hearts desires. However, this association between the word addict and drug use is more or less a modern phenomenon, as shows like COPS have brought the gritty reality of drug use and poverty to main stream society. However, prior to the 20th century, this was simply not the case as the term “addiction” carried a slew of negative associations related to the physical traits of the user themselves, as opposed to the specific dependencies to which the addict was predisposed. But what is addiction exactly, if not an addiction to a substance? According to Bruce K. Alexander, author of The Roots of Addiction in Free Market Society, “Addiction in the modern world can be best understood as a compulsive lifestyle that people adopt as a desperate substitute when they are dislocated from the myriad intimate ties between people and groups—from the family to the spiritual community—that are essential for every person in every type of society”. In the age of cellphones, televisions, computers, iPods, iPads, GPS’s, smart-watches and many other ‘screen devices’, are we becoming increasingly disconnected with those around us as a result of a growing isolation, (a digital veil as you will) or is it something else entirely? Is it possible that we have become addicted to addiction?

Addiction and consumption: Use and repeat 

We live in a society of constant consumption. From the typical breakfast run to Tim Horton’s, to the particular brand of bottled water you purchase in-between classes, we are constantly consuming, often times without thinking about it. But when do we cross the line between consumption and addiction? More importantly, if consumption, which according to Oxford Dictionary is“the using up of a resource”, is an act of expending of a resource, can this not also be seen as addiction? If one is, as Oxford suggests, “using up” a resource, does this not require repetition of action akin to addiction? In addition to being described as the using up of a resource, consumption has another Oxfordian definition, which is “the reception of information or entertainment, especially by a mass audience”. By combining these two definitions, we get a comprehensive understanding of what consumption is, or more specifically, its role in society as both a catalyst for spending, as well as a social contract guaranteeing that we will continue to consume certain products.

Early childhood: Get them when they’re young 

As children we are bombarded with advertisements and brand logos everywhere we go-during our Saturday morning cartoons, on our cereal boxes and even on our shoes. While this in itself is not a problem, subjecting children to hours of content that is psychologically created to keep them hooked on certain products is a bad idea. While as adults we have the ability to critically analyze ads and the affect they have on us, children lack the thinking skills necessary to determine whether what they are viewing is fundamentally ‘bad’, and therefore end up being brainwashed into corporate submission. Is it ever beneficial for a four-year-old to be able to name his favorite energy drink or pop? I think not. What else would you expect, as most major corporations specifically hire brand psychologists to work for their company an advise on the best way to keep consumers coming back for more. These corporate psychologists help to design ads in ways that maximize profit by creating enticing, brightly lit commercials that enthral both youth and adults alike, often moving them to action. In fact, as 90s children, we represent one of the first generations to be subdued by corporations. Now, what do I mean by subdued? Ask yourself this: how often do you set out promising yourself that you won’t spend money, but do? How often does the smell of that tempting fast food coax you into buying that not-so-healthy meal when you know you could just as easily go home and make something? The answer is that millennials have been wired to “over consume” in all facets of life, so much so, that it is no surprise that adult obesity is expected to surpass the 50 per cent mark by 2050. But it’s not just that we are over consuming, it is also clear that we are simply consuming more resources than we have available.

According to a study published by CNN, people younger than 35 are not saving any money. In fact, according to Moody’s Analytic’s, the saving rate among those 35 and younger has dropped to a negative two per cent, making them the only demographic that currently has a negative saving rating. The next age demographic age of 35 to 45 are up three per cent annually. But what does this tell us about millennials and their spending habits? For one, we learn that despite their best attempts, millennials are spending more money than they are making in total, thus continuing to go further into debt. Remember that if the average person under 35 is spending more than two per cent of what he makes in a year, then each year they are increasingly plunging themselves into crippling debt. Is this natural? Do we have anything to show for all of this money spent, besides some quick consummates and superfluous and fleeting products?

Transition from child to adult: Up the dosage of consumeristic addiction

In the 2000s, it seemed that every day another company received flak from a concerned interest group about a risky ads; whether it was the Budweiser commercial that showed young adults driving around on the beach drinking beer or the various conveniently placed cigarettes in our favourite cartoons and movies. This began a growing trend of television censorship which may have actually been an effective tool for combatting negative consumeristic commercials. While it was effective then, it seems now that most groups worry about censoring television or ads on cable(if anyone still watches cable), which completely does not account for the growing importance of modern media through product placement, social media and other forms of online advertisement.

In doing this, not only to do we create a situation in which consumers are programmed to spend more than they earn, various corporations also display an unrealistic lifestyle in regards to spending and overconsumption, much to the detriment of children. According to Statistics Canada,“In 2013, 18.9 per cent (5.5 million) of Canadians aged 12 and over reported alcohol consumption that classified them as heavy drinkers. The highest rates of heavy drinking for both sexes were among those aged 18 to 34”. This again comes as no shock with the glorification of young drinking illustrated through various movies and advertisements promoting that it is the cool lifestyle to live all the while not acknowledging the rate of accidents among young people due to alcohol consumption or the occurrence of rape among high- school-aged girls at parties.

According to a study conducted by researchers at the Yale Rudd Centre for Food Policy and Obesity, despite children seeing less than 40 per cent of ads from previous years as a result of censorship and regulation, the overall rate of consumption of sugary drinks remained stagnant.

In fact, according to the Yale-based group, an increasing push for an online presence was given by corporations to reach youth with new products that were healthier alternatives. “They’re trying to talk about offering healthier choices and lower sugar products,” said Jennifer Harris, the head author of the Yale-based report. “But if they keep marketing their high-sugar products to children and teens, they can’t say they are being a part of the solution.”

That’s the problem. Corporations continue playing the consumer game as if this can go on forever; as if we can consume without end, regardless of the moral dilemmas that people are put into due to over-consumption. In addition, companies hide behind the notion that an educated consumer can make his own educated choices and decide what products to purchase. To this, I say “inconceivable”! After a life time of being psychologically trained to spend without thinking, to consume without worry, it is unrealistic to expect your consumer basis to be educated and make the right decisions because they are no longer thinking, they are simply reacting. Similar to Pavlovian conditioning, once we have been raised to react to advertisements in a certain way, we will continue to consume more products at an exponential rate. It becomes unreasonable to expect anything else but pure obedience on the part of the consumer.

Consumers Anonymous: Breaking the cycle of mindless consumption and addiction 

Consumerism_02This one is can actually be summed up in one word: think! The root of addiction starts off as a habit, which begins with a single action, a moment in which we can choose to become the victim of another exterior force that seeks to dominate our will and spend all of our money, or a chance to say enough is enough. So, next time you hear someone calling a visibly-intoxicated person an addict, stop and think about what you are personally addicted to and more importantly, how we can approach the problem in a positive way. Because at the end of the day, if you are spending all of your money and your health is failing, what does it matter whether you are addicted to drugs or have a crippling addiction to food? Addiction is addiction and should be viewed as a by-product of a hyped-up, over-indulged culture that’s favorite pastime is spending, regardless of what it happens to be on.

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