We The Consumers and a little more

This stream of thoughts emerged in a reflective mood after a  discussion that almost turned into an altercation.

I was talking about waste with one of my friends who is well versed with the language of materials.

If we ignore the personnel involved and move over to the cause of debate, it brings us to the following : material waste, consumerism and a little more

I am an authority on none, but what troubles me and confuses me is that many (not all) of the creations in the market today seem a little unnecessary and way beyond need. It of course caters to luxury, fantasy and status. Largely in the head. This immediately makes one flare up quoting environmentalists/thinkers on sustainability etc.

However when one looks at it from an industrial point of view, it provides employment to semi-skilled who can handle machines. Suddenly one tries to validate it, see where would these people go?

But if we talk of the industrial process, is our industrial process really labor intensive? And what exactly caused these people to be working in such conditions, to be employed in such extremes? Is it really serving its purpose to the hilt? Since it’s not, and I personally know a photographer shooting nature for an industry producing waste, to promote itself as the one producing lesser waste, can the greater harm be ignored? Are the laborers/technical staff working in those factories and industries living a normal dignified life? Is it assurance enough for these migrants or localities having lost land, to a brighter tomorrow? Perhaps a few schemes here and there help, but is it in any way going to recognize the need for social equity? Impossible!  You won’t have people carrying out the most idiosyncratic desires of the wealthy, if social equality were to exist. Will such a job prevent issues in co-operation at the grassroots where caste plays a crucial role? Its not concerned with it. But a major chunk of the people who work there, have families back in villages who are very well concerned with it, they live with it.

When one moves to consumerism, yes we all consume, up to a limit its need, post that its sheer indulgence. How much we indulge is proportional to financial as well as social standing. Social, this indeed plays a demonic role at times, where desires or fear of disapproval make one indifferent to how their indulgence could cut down even on their basic requirements, but financial is even more dangerous! It makes one absolutely indifferent towards that indulgence, because they work day and night to own the cards that make them valuable customers for the urban delights. Alright, they earn, they spend, what is your problem? It would have not been a problem had this desire  which is created through colorful hoardings, bikini clad women in flashy commercials, and now innocent children for “you really cannot do without this” products, been limited to the aforementioned financially adept customers. The fact is that desire obviously trickles down, at times intended, at times unintended. The majority of those suffering in poverty and lack of opportunities, have those colorful antennae for television sets that acquaint them with the lives and fancies of the elite. This leads to the following: unmet desires, anger, hopelessness, fear, desperation and more negatives than positives. Some time back I read an article in Financial Times which spoke of smaller packages in lesser pricing for Rural or Semi Urban Consumers incorporating of course the much-needed cosmetics for fairness etc. But will this cover up for the steep gap in everything else? This certainly leads one to recognize the potential of small especially in rural context, be it micro financing or decentralized contextual efforts by varied organizations, yes small works, in fact it works pretty well. It works great when it uses different nodes, for example connecting mobile, information and farmer or so on.

But let’s go back to the issue of materials. Imagine there is a hand-made toy. The toy has the following benefits: play, cheap, child can break it and make it and if unable to, will buy a new one and try all over again, lets assume its made out of complete waste, carries the charm and uniqueness of craft and tradition, keeps a skill alive. Now when we industrialize the same, we produce in large quantities, colorful, costlier, try to gain autonomy, great!. But what about the craftsmen? What about the material waste, will this process be even comparable with the previous one in its role towards the eco system? What about the authentic symbolism the previosu one carried? If, instead of this, the craftsman is empowered along with generations who would otherwise give up on it, to align his skill with demand, maybe he needs another tool, maybe he needs to modify his design, will it not be a difference worth it? It’s not philanthropy, its joining hands in innovation at the right level.

Lets take another example. A group I know of, makes creative kits for children. Earlier their kits were using separate materials for every creative technique. Now they feel they should make it modular. I myself am much intrigued by designing for disassembly, but I also believe, it should be more as a restoration than further creation, whereas this group looks at actually producing kits with modular plastic pieces so that the kids can try the techniques taught in kits and then make something else also. Now here is a dilemma, the intention is good because they want to save further wastage but is it not at the cost of actually first creating the scope of wastage? Then how do we do it? Will parents not ask for it? Will schools not ask for it? I fell silent. Instead of producing materials for those techniques, can kids not be encouraged to use any or every material waste around them (which is really not difficult to find) and then use their creative genius? This way they will actually understand why they do what they do. But then how do we earn money? Empowerment does not pay much, does it? Are we an economy that values values

I wish I had answers to these, I may be completely wrong, but then is there anything as right anyway? How do we solve this? we all I am sure are looking for answers and working towards it…it should be done together…


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