I love Christmas, but I don't love shopping. I used to, but I grew out of it. I became less influenced by pressure and less insecure as a person. I don't know how the change occurred, but I think traveling made a big difference. It takes time and money to travel and see the world, but it also takes time and money to be a consumer.
A consumer-driven economy demands many roles and responsibilities from the consumer: make, buy, manage, update and dispose of the product, and put the economy back in gear. Wow, we consumers must be living in the North Pole with a lot of elves at our feet!
But we're not. We're real people with families and jobs, hopes and desires. Which makes me wonder how it's my responsibility, or within my power, as a consumer, to bump up the economy, like we've been told. We've been in an economic holding pattern. Corporations, banks and the 1 percent have treasure chests of cash not being pumped into the economy. Banks and corporations are waiting for consumers to open their wallets, or add to existing debt, before they hire or lend or do anything. The 1 percent give to charity and get tax breaks; how does this stimulate job growth or help small businesses?
Around Christmas the pressure on the consumer is even greater. But this year, I am Occupying Christmas by not giving in to the pressures of purchase. I will voluntarily use my time doing something I value. I decided this when, over a course of three days, three scenarios presented themselves to me, and you know if things come in threes it means the universe is telling you something.
First, my MacBook Pro's battery charger stopped working after 18 months of use; second, I noticed cigarette burn-sized holes had appeared in the bum of three of my Hard Tail Forever yoga pants; and lastly, I discovered the certified pre-owned Audi I bought a year ago had the original 2007 tires when I thought the car was equipped with "certified" new(ish?) tires.
The cherubic Genius I spoke with at the Apple store said it was "highly unusual" for the battery wires to fray in little over a year, but since I didn't have Apple Care I would have to purchase a new battery suite for roughly $80. Companies increase their margins via overseas suppliers with cheaper products and then market product insurance because they're on the hook when the supplier fails to perform. If you don't take the insurance, they get another sale. It makes as much sense (and money) as the insurance sold in relation to the disastrous mortgage back securities, called credit default swaps. That scam made a slew of money for the insurer AIG (or, more specifically, for a small division of AIG) but led to a financial meltdown for the rest of us.
After several calls and email discussions with Hard Tail Forever, the $70 plus yoga pants with holes in the bottoms have been sort of replaced and not without lingering feelings of self-consciousness, like I was scamming them out of new product. I simply thought the pants should live up to their price and tag line: Hard Tail Forever.
My mother, who was raised on a farm, taught me to buy quality items to last. In fact, certain brands stick with me when remembering my mother: Clinique, Daniel Green slippers, Neiman Marcus. Now we have planned obsolescence or just crappy products at the same, or higher, prices. Not to mention products sold, which by corporate design, have so many corporate outs if they don't work out. The balance of power is just, out of balance.
Today I try to own less. I find the fewer things I own, the more time I have. I don't have to clean, dust, update, fix, move, relocate, box, store, repair, finance, or think about things, when I own less. This is the way Gandhi lived, with little. This also conjures up loincloths and John Lennon glasses.
When we think of our lives, few aspire to be so simple or take on such fashion. But many of us wish we had more time. The reason I want more time is not simply to lounge around watching TV. The less time I have, the less I know who I am. We identify ourselves by our job position, our role in society, our relationship to others, but when we're encouraged to work harder, spend more, we think about less, and experience less, of the things that matter to us as individuals.
Since corporations have a bottom line to serve, their ethos push individuals to act less as humans and more as strategic company soldiers. In professional settings, I oftentimes wondered who I'd become. We take on certain roles and act outside of what intuition tells us. I'm sure Danny Sparks, former head of the Mortgage desk at Goldman Sachs thought a number of times that the Mortgage Back Securities he sold on the street were strangely and absurdly lucrative, but closed off his intuition, and intelligence, that this might not be so good for homeowners at large.
Back at Apple, something about the "system" wouldn't allow the Genius to make any concessions for my defective battery and "a manager would only say the same thing." I looked deep into the Genius' eyes. He knew the battery should be replaced, but because this was a consumer to Genius conversation, the "system" overruled any logical outcome.
The Audi dealership offered to pay 25 percent of the purchase of two new tires. That's nice, but what about not selling me a certified pre-owned car with tires lasting only another 7k miles?
All this consumerism wears a girl out. There's so much more I could've done with the time I spent hustling these companies for answers, not to mention time spent buying the stuff -- that's another story. We hear so much about growth, economic growth, continued growth, forecasted growth. Apparently, we are supposed to never stop growing in a tangible way. Yet as I buy less, I suffer less economically, and I grow in other ways. I spend weekends putting energy into my environment, friends and family. Instead of digging the economy out of its hole via the old shopping paradigm (remember George W.?).
In "The Great Reset", Richard Florida states the next economy will be based on experiential value, i.e. doing things instead of owning things. If companies continue to take more and more from the consumer in substandard products, ancillary insurance products, guilt trips and educational blind spots, then consumers will continue to be unhappy. I'm not advocating zero profits or dismantling capitalism. I do advocate a new hat for the consumer.
Ho Ho Ho.
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