Temper your Spending — Perpetual Desires and Unnecessary Purchases.
Advertising and Consumers - capitalizing on our need to integrate and stand-out.
Humanity is complex. That is indisputable. Yet, in this complexity, one can find immense beauty. For all the intricacies of the complexity can be traced back to a few, basic human traits. Among them, there are two that thrive in today’s materialistic society — “Need to be completely integrated in a social group” (adorably nicknamed as FOMO) and a fierce “Desire to rise above peers”.
Advertising today, is nothing short of an art form. It capitulates on inherent human FOMO traits and create circumstances where a new release is craved by all, even if their current solution works perfectly well. A secondary objective of aspiring for that product is also created by creating a sense of exclusivity and prestige.
Does this make those companies greedy or money-minded? It depends on how the company chooses to position itself. For-profit companies’ sole objective is to make as much profit as possible. Their way of manipulating our psyches to get what they want is perfectly within their rights.
As consumers however, it doesn’t bode us well. We tend to aspire for everything new and shiny. In price-insensitive markets, most of the consumers spend irrationally. Their aspirations turn into lust and eventually debt with the by-product being a perfectly operational product being trashed or made useless.
This is preposterously common. Especially with new technology. People feel the need to upgrade their devices, whether it be a smartphone (within 3 years), laptop (within 5 years) or other gadgets within a small window. Sure, the gadget starts to feel slow or shows a few signs of its age, but that isn’t a real gripe with it. Most of the second hand devices, after a bit of servicing work for about 3 to 5 years more (if you consider their 2 to 3 years of prior usage). In fact, if one is a bit experimental, he or she can use a smartphone for up to 8 years after it was first launched. The problem with these incredibly short upgrade cycles is many-fold.
Problems with unneeded and excessive consumer spending.
Firstly, unnecessary expenditure will create financial difficulties when times are hard or if one gains a proclivity towards it. And COVID-19 is the best evidence for this.
Secondly, if the upgrade cycle is short, manufacturers stop supporting older devices with software and security. With privacy and cybersecurity concerns running rampant, it is absolutely essential for them to do so. Traditional computers were supported for up to 10 years by manufacturers. Windows 7 supported computers till 2020 while it was released in 2009. Smartphones and other gadget manufacturers have an industry wide policy of 2 years updates of firmware and platform and 1 extra year of security upgrades with exceptions being Apple (up to 6 years), Google (up to 3 years) and now, Samsung (up to 3 years). This arose partly because people upgraded their phone very fast and also a reverse effect where manufacturers force people to upgrade because of lack of support.
Thirdly, the environment takes an enormous hit. With every new product out there, more power, materials and all the other direct and indirect effects of manufacturing contribute to the degradation of our biosphere. Most of the products end up in landfills as waste, un-recyclable and the components inside them, some quite toxic to life, pollute our biosphere (As in land, air, water and life).
Lastly, our hormonal systems become tuned to release dopamine instead of serotonin. Many of us mistake pleasure with happiness. Any sort of addiction releases dopamine, which is a temporary high creator. In order to be truly happy, we need to seek serotonin releases. Frequent purchases, unwarranted upgrades and the like, flood our brains with dopamine, not only destroying our self-control and giving an extreme need to seek pleasure, but also leave us with intense regret later on.
Does it impinge on our basic freedoms?
At this point, you might be asking — what does all of this have to do with a consumer’s choice of desiring and upgrading?
It propagates a negative sentiment throughout our society. Human beings are social lifeforms. The moment even one member of a group purchases something new and shiny, it causes a ripple effect that leads to the problems listed above but multiplied by a factor of hundreds of millions, if not billions. It leads to additional problems as well. Those who can’t afford a luxury product (which is a clear exploitation of “Desire to rise above peer group”), start to denigrate what is obviously a superior item in many facets but doesn’t offer the same functional value as consumer-focused, bang-for-the-buck products do, creating resentful factions online.
Additionally, we spend more money than we need to on products that in no way improve our lives. On upgrading their smartphone, people are initially amazed by the speed, improved screen and better cameras. There are individuals who are completely justified in their annual or even biannual upgrade cycle. Perhaps, their gadget is the central point of their workflow. However, for the general consumer, the excitement fades away within a month or two. Sure, their photos looks good. But how much better did it get? If it was a 4+ year transition, the effects are immediately noticeable. But less than 4 years, it is nothing but pixel-peeping that can identify such a huge difference. Their smartphone experience isn’t completely overhauled, echoing “there-was-no-need-to-buy-it” sentiments.
Indulge but don’t spend excessively.
I don’t advocate for complete loss of indulgence. Indulging is one of life’s finer aspects and must be thoroughly enjoyed. But, the activities we indulge in must benefit our physical, mental and perhaps, spiritual states bestowing us with happiness. However, we tend to seek overly materialistic overtures and that is gradually destroying the financial stability painstakingly created over the past few decades. Many consider consumer spending as a key component in GDP growth, with respect to national economy. As it should be. The largest economies in the world are the highest consumer spenders. Yet, they are also the largest national and public debt accumulators.
The richest economies (from a GDP per capita perspective), aren’t massive spenders but have a balance between spending and saving while remaining quite low on debt. Inordinate consumer spending hurts the economy much more than it supports. It creates scenarios where there is more personal and national debt, there are no backup funds to fall back on in hard times — like COVID-19, the economy is on a free fall, jobs are lost, social security becomes a burden on the government and loss self-confidence, faith and belief become rampant.
Our primary duty must be to temper our perpetual desires and upgrade only when necessary. After all, financial, social and environmental security are hard things to achieve and if keeping your gadgets a bit longer can make that difference, wouldn’t you take that choice?