Consumers; Powerful & Powerless

Consumers; Powerful & Powerless

The last 12 months of sales, special offers, all things red signage that’s been calling us all into the temples of consumption, culminates once more into one day of sales to end all sales, Black Friday! Are you ready? Have you attended the commercial church already; played your part as a good consumer? Did you discover the ‘means to happiness’ in there? Or will you wake up feeling likes it’s a Damp Squib Saturday wondering why life just isn’t all at once, perfect?

No need to worry, our modern socio-economic world promises redemption, Cyber Monday. Seek again the ‘means to happiness’ from the comfort of your home. Busy Monday?! Fear not though, absolution can be sought throughout December, and for those of us who don’t practice consumerism enough, January Sales aren’t far behind. There are numerous opportunities to be a good consumer.

I, the consumer

I, the consumer

In fact, we don’t have to do much to be good consumers. Josh Pasek, Associate Professor of Communication Studies, at the University of Michigan states we consumers need only act in ‘response to economic incentives’. Our life is about transactions and we good consumers merely hold the product or service provider responsible for ensuring that that product or service is the best of the best, at the least price. If I am to take on any responsibility it is to enforce that, by searching out for the best item at the least price. This is my overarching interest, my self interest. There are few other considerations.

Does this seem too unfair a description? According to the online etymology dictionary, the origins of word consumer comes from the early 15th century meaning of it; “one who squanders or wastes”. Do a quick google search and today a consumer is “a person who purchases goods and services for personal use”. You are a buyer, we are all buyers. Be a good buyer and simply, buy – when signalled.

What’s in a name?

The words we use to label ourselves help to frame a sense of values and action about our role in society; think Conservative, Liberal, Environmentalist, Socialist, Anarchist, Farmer, Foodie. Language can heavily influence our sense of agency. Referring to ourselves as consumers, brings with it a set of values about who we are and what we do. From the modern understanding of the word consumer, there is very little action on my part. I am passive, waiting to be directed to choose the goods and services available to me.

This idea of the consumer mindset and its associated effects came to the fore in a study carried out by scientists from Northwestern University called “Cuing Consumerism”. The study carried out 4 different experiments to determine how the situational environment and language used around us impacted our values or action. When the experiment was framed as “a consumer reaction study” students acted in their self interest and competitively. The opposite was found when they framed the experiment as a “citizen reaction study”. They were more likely to trust and be socially involved. The consumer label, the authors concluded “did not unite; it divided”

I, the citizen

I, the citizen

What do you think of when you hear the word citizen? A citizen is someones who belongs to a particular place, town, country. Google citizenship and its says “the position or status of being a citizen of a particular country”. Search its origins and we get “status, rights, privileges, and responsibilities of a citizen”. We’ve asked lots of people what it means to them. The commonality in all their answers were; Responsibility, being informed, being active.

So let’s get active this #BlackFriday:

Here are a few ideas you can do to be a good citizen:

Irish outdoors#WildFriday – avoid the cathedrals of consumption, they exist to grab and appeal to our consumer senses. Get out, find a green space. Consume fresh air, sniff in nature’s scent and search for the ‘means of happiness’ in the natural world. Put your hands in the soil! Plant a tree. Search out and support the organisations working for our environment. Help grow, spread & protect our seed sovereignty by choosing Irish seeds.

Bright friday#BrightFriday – Search out some volunteering opportunities; Donate to a civil society group or charity that works for the social good. Vote in the Charity awards. Search out and sign a petition! Find out who your local Councilor, TD, MEP is and email them about a concern you have or even just a simple email to say “I am more than a mere consumer, I am a citizen I expect better for myself, my community, my environment and our politicians”

Buy Green#GreenFriday – There’s no need to throw the baby out with the bathwater here. We will always be a consumer. We just don’t need to let that define our values and actions. Be a citizen-consumer. Like the consumer co-operatives in the century before us who campaigned for things like, no ‘slave grown goods’, even the rights of women to vote. After all we are “the women with the baskets” and we hold power. Buy from a Fair Food Farmer, buy from an independent, local store, buy clothing that plants a tree, buy fair trade, fair chain, buy less, buy better, buy green.

In 1871, William Stanley Jevons said “The value of the coat depended on how much a person desired it”. Don’t give value to the things that merely promise “the means of happiness”. Choose the things you truly desire….

In all things; Choose Better – Choose Fair

What do you desire?Here’s to a #faireveryday


Any advice or ideas on how we can be better citizens or citizen-consumers please do share them with us….

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