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Week 4

Work and Consumer Culture

In today’s world the realms of work and consumer culture seem separate and disconnected. Since we spend most of our work hours inside, it follows that most indoor workers might consider their work largely irrelevant to and unconnected with nature. But it is important to remember that our work is what “buys? our leisure and Corbett argues that all work intersects with nature though in very different ways. According to sociologist Juliet Shor, since 1948 the productivity of U.S. workers has more than doubled, meaning that we can produce a 1948 standard of living now in about half the time (Corbett, 89). But what happened to all of the extra money we make? We go shopping. By the 1990s the average American owned and consumed more than twice as much as he or she did in 1948, however, we also have less free time. This work-spend cycle becomes increasingly difficult to get away from especially as people try to work more to be able to spend more. This has obvious and detrimental implications for the natural world. The United States has only 5 percent of the world’s population but consumes 20 percent of its natural resources and 25 percent of its energy supply (Corbett, 90). This is more than any other country on earth. Corbett describes this as the development of the “buyosphere,? a place that is not a civic space, but is our chief arena for expression and the place where we learn most about who we are as people and individuals. In modern society, we are so entangled in consumer culture that it is virtually impossible to leave this space, just as some of the other materials in class portray, the line between advertising and content is becoming blurred to distinction. Advertising and marketing play all-important roles, and privatism (as far as focusing on one’s personal interests and desires is concerned) tends to dominate most people’s thinking and behavior. Also as we discussed in class, Corbett describes the advertising industry as “the destroyer and creator in the process of the ever-evolving new? (Corbett, 96). Obsolescence of items continues to nurture the condition of consumer dissatisfaction until they purchase a new item. And last, as we recently read in Anna McCarthy’s article, the use of point of purchase can often get people to feel that if they buy a product they too can move up in class. The chapter points to “conspicuous consumption? of the leisure class as a primary index of its social status and prestige (Corbett, 99). We fail to think about the process of consumption while we focus on the purchase. Most consumers don’t understand where things came from or where they go and this has contributed greatly to our ecological illiteracy. We don’t think about how much of our packaging is waste, because we are focused on the design, style and persuasiveness. Products are either non-usable, can be reduced, reused, recycled or put in the trash. Although many places have the ability to recycle, it’s hardly an institutional ethic. The point is, no job, no matter what level, escapes the environmental consequences of its labor. We might think our distances from it lessens our responsibility, but this dualism can only mean the absence of nature and nature can only mean human leisure so that the both will be poorer. In an example from my own life, I was happy to find a company to work for this past summer that took environmental concerns into account. The company, JohnsonDiversey, actually took pride in taking action to work toward a better environment by making the workplace more efficient. It is a gold standard LEED certified building that uses windows as a source of lights and motion-sensors when necessary, it strives to use environmentally-safe chemicals and although its focus is on earning a profit, it will sacrifice profit when significant issues harming the environment are concerned. All of the employees were educated on the process of product manufacturing and in this way everyone was literate about his or her role in affecting the environment. Hopefully in the future many more companies and institutions will be taking efforts to do something similar.