Have you ever had a friend brag to you about having the latest smartphone? Held a conversation with one of your neighbors over their new hybrid car? Chat during a lunch break with your colleagues over the newest superfood? If none of these apply to you, surely you’ve noticed how fashion trends always seem to be going in and out of style? You might have noticed some of these fleeting fads, and some of them you might have not. Regardless, it’s interesting to ask how and why consumers feel the need to update their electronics, vehicles, fashion, and even food choices from time to time. One possible answer to this question would have to be the media. Consumers are influenced to purchase things by the media whether it is through television commercials, movie product placement, or Internet ads. However, another possibility that people don’t seem to consider is themselves. It’s true; how many times have you looked at someone and envied something they had? Personally, I didn’t notice any type of trend within the American consumerist society until the end of my second quarter of Critical Thinking and Writing English class. Through analyzing literature and writing different essays revolving around my class’ themes of reading food, self and culture, and human, animal, and machine, I’ve noticed a common theme within my own writing. My past essays have all, at the very least, had undertones of human acceptance and subsequent dependence on something.
The first essay I wrote argued that Americans have a tendency to stick to societal tradition and feel obligated to incorporate food on their dates. Daters accept and trust this technique even though dates don’t necessarily have to include food to be successful. I’ve also written about the consequences of modern farming methods in which we overuse corn to make many questionable by-products that are then put into our food. Consumers put their trust in this processed food by not challenging its cheap price and asking where it comes from. Another essay was even based on the idea of doing-it-yourself and, more specifically, our insistence on doing something ourselves even when we are dependent on the help of instructions. However, the essay that I’m mainly choosing to focus on in this blog post argues how, as a consumerist society, we have an unaddressed addiction, and therefore helplessness, to technological screens. I argue that one factor to consider is how our environment is influential and plays a large part on how importantly we perceive technology. As a college student, I’ve noticed the prevalence of touch screens on campus, and I’ve interpreted this as my school intending to come off as a state of the art learning institution. In my essay about technological screens, I address how we are too dependent on technology as supplementary aids to our education. This touch screen technology is not only found in the classroom, but it is also found across campuses everywhere and specifically my university, Santa Clara. My essay argues that screens that display the weather, stocks, and school information are ubiquitous on Santa Clara’s campus and seem like the university’s attempt to seem modernized.
Dr. Ada Demb, an author focused on the use of technology in higher education and institutions, speculates “Younger students arrive at campuses with the expectation that technology will play a major role in their education, and as consumers they demand the same service quality that they demand elsewhere” (Demb). Dr. Ada Demb’s comment provides insight on why institutions of higher education must attempt to look technologically advanced in relation to other universities. Colleges have to show off their technology in order to attract students, and students expect colleges to have this technology. It’s as simple as that. This means that colleges are worth only as much as how technologically advanced they seem. In addition to this idea, my essay argues “while the expenses of college campuses are not the sole influence contributing to the habits of student consumerism, the improvement of devices with screens becomes a model for students that think they have to keep up with these technological upgrades as well. In a collection of research by Nationwide, an insurance company, the average college student owns six digital devices (Nationwide).” This shows that college campus’ tendencies make students feel like they need to upgrade their devices. While examples like my college campus show how environment influences our valuation of materials, one specific media example of this concept would be The Joneses. In 2009, a movie called The Joneses was released. The family, named the Joneses, seems normal at first. But as the story progresses, it becomes evident that they put on the façade of a perfect family in order to advertise new products to their neighbors and friends. Viewers learn that the Joneses are strategically planted in an affluent neighborhood in order to show off their gadgets to everyone they come across.
The Joneses’ charming personalities and award winning smiles leave everyone else envious of their lives, thus convincing them to buy newer products in order to prove their worth and stay relevant within the community (“The Joneses”). The Joneses is a great example because it shows the problem that we have as consumers. As a consumer culture, we are not only influenced by our environments, but also by the people we interact with. Being able to identify with the characters fighting to prove themselves to each other is alarmingly too real for what’s supposed to be typical Hollywood entertainment—it shows we care too much about what others think of us. The Joneses shows that accepting the idea that technology can increase our self-worth leads to overdependence and irrationality, where we try to prove ourselves by trusting everyone else’s judgment of success over our own. Similar to the idea of “keeping up with the Joneses” is the popular television reality series Keeping up with the Kardashians. The name is not only a play on the popular saying; one of the main premises of the show is the whole idea of “keeping up with the Joneses”. Even though some viewers live their lives vicariously through the Kardashian’s family drama, others can’t help but notice “over-the-top conspicuous consumption” (Kelly).
Much like Dr. Ada Demb’s comment on students’ expectations of college campuses, the Kardashians materialistic ways prove to be a good indicator of how our consumerist society determines the value of something. I argue in my technology essay about how these notions of materialism “promote a new system of social hierarchy where the most recent devices prove someone’s elitism”. In my Critical Thinking and Writing Class, we watched a video on a commencement speech given by David Foster Wallace to the 2005 graduating class of Kenyon College. Wallace addressed the idea of “day in, day out” where the average white collar worker slaves over work and forgets to appreciate the beauty of life. The speech, named “This Is Water”, reminds the audience to take a step back and remember to be aware of their surroundings (Wallace). By becoming more observant and reminding yourself that “this is water,” you have the ability to assess any situation in a rational manner.
Since finding a common link between all of my previous essays, it’s clear to me that human acceptance and overreliance has always been in the back of my mind; I just had to take a step back and think to myself “this is water”. With materialism centered TV shows and movies becoming popular, it’s clear that this trust in overconsumption has been a thought in consumers’ minds as well. My research on food, technology, and doing-it-yourself has helped me realize that it’s easy to become dependent on things that are time efficient and allow us to increase the productivity in our lives—with the most notable culprit being technology. With media and society showing us what to think and what to buy, we’ve forgotten what it’s like to be conscious and live in moderation. After all, we’ve been trying to keep up with the Joneses and Kardashians for too long. It’s time we take a break, and keep up with ourselves for once.
Demb, Ada. “Change Dynamics And Leadership In Technology Implementation.” The Journal of Higher Education 75: 636-666. Print<http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/journal_of_higher_education/v075/75.6owen.pdf>.
The Joneses. Dir. Derrick Borte. 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, 2010. DVD.
Kelly, Maura. “How about not keeping up with the Kardashians?.” theguardian.com. Guardian
Wallace, David Foster. “This is Water.” Graduation Ceremony. Kenyon College, Gambier, Ohio. 21 May 2005. Speech.