It’s no secret that holiday consumerism has skyrocketed over the years. The now-normalized urge to buy gifts during the holidays, combined with the strategies that businesses use to target consumers, have created a strenuous game that drains families, businesses, employees, and environmental resources.
Businesses manipulate us to engage in over-the-top shopping, enticing us to buy more than we otherwise would with low costs, great deals, one-time offers, layaway, and more. But many of these offers mask hidden agendas or false deals.
I once worked in a phone store that sold cheap-quality virtual reality headsets to customers who bought a new phone. The catch? The straps for the headsets were sold separately. This resulted in many unhappy customers who returned with headsets that they couldn't even put on, only to find out that they couldn’t get their money back because of the company’s no-return policy.
The company also offered an accessory package deal where customers would get a discount if they purchased three phone accessories that were at least $25 each. While most customers walked away with a “deal,” they didn't seem to realize that they were being influenced to spend much more money than they had originally planned to spend.
Consumerism becomes even more intense with online shopping. When you’re online, companies are constantly monitoring your Internet activity to devise ways to get you to buy their products, using information such as recently visited websites, recent Google searches, or recently searched products. This information is quickly used to make online ads that companies can bombard you with, exposing you to these ads to the point that it affects your thoughts.
As The Story of Stuff explains, we’re caught in a never-ending cycle of working hard to make money, then relaxing at home where we’re exposed to a slew of ads that make us want to go out and spend money—money that we’ll again have to go out and work hard to make.
The environmental impacts of this never-ending cycle are huge. To meet our ever-increasing demand for products, the United States alone “uses up at least 30 percent of the Earth's resources and creates 30 percent of its waste.” This means that we’re not only decimating natural resources such as forests, but we’re creating ever more waste, leading to pollution, garbage pile-ups, and other toxic effects that continue to damage the environment and its resources.
Production and shipping are very costly to the environment, as factories and vehicles release a constant flow of emissions from the burning of fossil fuels. Not only are we generating massive quantities of waste, but we’re also squandering money because so many items are made to break. They’re deliberately designed to become obsolete so that you’ll be forced to spend money on more products.
Consider cell phones, which are easily broken, or how electronics companies like Microsoft and Sony make their older video gaming consoles obsolete to force their customers to buy their newer products. This tactic works especially well with youth, who fall victim to peer pressure. Young people may not want to buy newer consoles because of costs or other factors, but they don’t have much choice when their services are cut off and they can no longer play with friends who have the newer system.
With the barrage of video ads, commercials, posters, billboards, online ads, and more influencing us every day, the most troubling question is “how is this affecting childhood development?” Children are far more susceptible to advertising than adults.
As a child, I was overweight thanks to a food addiction created by the ever-present media around me. In addition to all the McDonald's commercials, there were tons of cartoons that took extra time to make food look desirable and addictive. In many cases, the lovable main characters shared the common characteristic of a love for food. As a kid, it’s hard not to want to eat when you’re watching your favorite characters gorge.
Kids are huge targets for companies not just because they provide marketers with access to their parents’ money, but because they are the customers of the future. Companies want to influence them when they’re young, while they’re easier to market to. Kids today are targeted by such a high volume of advertising that even scientists aren’t sure how this will affect their development.
While many corporations’ tactics are questionable and sometimes underhanded, not all companies are evil. Businesses need advertising and products to survive. But there are still steps we can take to minimize any harm done to ourselves, our lifestyles, and our environment.
Interested in supporting Isaiah's company, Project Beanstalk, as it seeks to expand diversity in the gaming industry? Consider contributing to his crowdfunding campaign.
Isaiah Johnson is a 2018 New Dream Youth Fellow from Pittsburg, California. He is passionate about creating more diversity in the video game industry, and about positive social impact. He is especially interested in supporting youth of color as they learn more about technology and professional development. Isaiah brings a unique approach to his work in gaming: instead of the common emphasis on colors and actions that fuel anger and violence, he creates experiences that help people to build understanding and empathy. He is working to create a program for youth to learn professional game development to help spread new thinking and build in new perspectives among creatives and technologists.