Σάββατο, 20 Αυγούστου 2011

Consumption and the hijacking of our lives

From the day we are born, some role models are imposed to us and we are trying to be like them. Society accepts those who have a car, own a house in a city, have a phone, a TV, a mobile phone. Society admires people educated to be lawyers, doctors, scientists, engineers, teachers. Trendy clothes and brands have to be worn.

A contrast: What happens when you own a bike? (BBC News - Cycling industry gives economy £3bn boost http://bbc.in/qiwMpM) When you commute either with your own two feet, or with a bike, or using the public transportation for longer distances? How things would be if we did not own the houses we are staying in the cities, but we were renting (maybe as part of the taxes we pay) them from the state according to our income? What if phones and mobile phones were developed under certain standards and specifications and the focus was on the service provided by the operators through them? What if there was only one TV device per house? How about admiring farmers, dancers, painters, musicians, carpenters, palaeontologists and plumbers as much as engineers, mathematicians, doctors and lawyers? What if the clothes were picked according to their functionality and not according to the little label on the chest?

I bet the world would be a much better place! Lets try to imagine:

Houses built according to certain standards by the state. Maintained by the state and demolished and rebuilt  every 50-60 years by the state! Costs covered through taxes we pay. Families would not have to invest from their budget (usually taking 30-40% of the family income) for the housing project. Standards could be observed more closely. Speculation, price inflation and housing market bubbles would be unknown terms! After all, building a house, except for the brief period of the construction, it is not a very productive way to invest ones resources! This model would apply in all cities. Parks and public spaces could be organized better. Long term planning of the community would be much easier. Architecture would have unlimited space to develop new technologies. Energy consumption could be more reasonable, helping the environment. Resources and wealth beyond our imagination which now are being "frozen" in the value of bricks and walls and private swimming pools would be made available for investment to the productive economy!

The commuting vision: People would be able to move around in the cities on safe roads with their bikes or by walking or other human powered vehicles. For longer distances or when the circumstances are not favorable they would be able to use public transportation like trains, trams, electric buses. Accidents costing endless millions to state budget and cause unbelievable personal misery would be reduced! Public health would improve by having less obese citizens and better quality of air. Unreasonable social discrimination based on the kind of vehicle that someone owns would be unknown. Cities would have more public space. State would also save a big chunk of its' budget which goes to maintenance of the roads and for building new ones to accommodate the increasing number of cars and their parking needs. Automotive companies would be focused on engine technologies and not on pointless chassis design projects that offer nothing substantial to our lives. And finally, personal finance resources "blown in the wind" for a new car that is losing it's value as soon as you open the door for the first time, would find better ways of use. Public transportation would require increased budget from the state, but it would be way lower than the requirements for new avenues and their maintenance, or for addressing public health issues, created by the low quality of life in the cities, or by car accidents. 

Singers, dancers, painters, gardeners would be equally important with all the professions. Because the society would have available more free time and more resources to invest in the public welfare and culture. We would prevent the overpopulation in certain professions and allow personalities to develop better, through the education system. Universities and schools could be real cultural centers and not mass production facilities of brains that think in the same way and lose most of their capability to question and improvise!Social discrimination based on ones job title would be reduced, and social value would be attributed mostly to the quality of his / her skills. Excellence in personal level, would be encouraged and rewarded by the society according to the skills and not the perceived value of the profession.

Many more examples could be presented here describing this ideal world. The few, utopic-at-first-sight, cases I described above, highlight some simple imbalances  in our lifestyle. Automotive companies compete on the fields of chassis design and financial solutions (basically loans) for their cars, instead of engineering breakthroughs for the engines that move these cars. People get loans, which will last more than their productive lifetime, to buy bigger and more energy consuming houses than they need. They suppress their creativity and natural predisposition towards the development of skills, in order to be socially accepted. They end up serving non productive positions in multinational companies, without any clear view of the outcome of their day to day work, just because they are socially accepted (probably because of their 6-digit salaries, or collection of credit cards). Because of the intense social focus in certain sectors of economy, value inflation is making this endless pursue of the "dream" even more unobtainable. Consumption without any real need behind it, is the hollow foundation of the development of modern societies.

People need to open their eyes and realize what is the real value of the skills, items, services that they spend their time and resources in their ongoing effort to acquire. We are wasting our lives and resources in pursue of goals that we have not chosen! And we are dragging down with us the whole planet...

(by the way: The housing model described above, has been successfully implemented in Singapore for the past 30 years, the automotive model is the one under which this industry started more than a century ago, and was lost along the way)

Interesting to read: Was Marx Right? - Umair Haque - Harvard Business Review
Interesting to watch: Surviving Progress

Interesting to watch: http://youtu.be/4Z9WVZddH9w

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