Sunday, July 15, 2007

Keep the Gears Turning


The VISA check card commercials, portraying the continuous purchasing of goods like coffee and donuts with barely a pause to select them is an interesting homage to the constant movement in our culture.

The well-heeled and good-looking consumers, clearly representing the upper middle-class daily commuters entering the city in their thousands, quickly pass their credit card over the scanning machines at the newspaper kiosk and coffee shop, happily gathering their daily news and breakfast. Unfortunately, there is a somewhat pudgy and balding man in the long line that decides to use CASH! The line screeches to a halt with exasperated customers behind the gent carefully hiding their disapproval as the man interrupts the headlong rush into the day.

What I find somewhat irritating is that this ad feeds into the perception that we must be going all the time. This is something I know I struggle with occasionally; feeling like just sitting still is somehow wrong. The daily grind of the commuters is made into a speedway of commerce, zipping a charge here, zapping a charge there, go ahead and buy all your stuff this way and keep reducing commerce from relationships to transactions. Before you know it, we’ll never have to speak with anyone other than our family, close friends, and co-workers…the professional world will be strictly functional. Perhaps that is where we want to go?

From a sustainability perspective, clearly zipping and zapping one’s way through the day as a consumer helps to maintain the status quo; keep on spending, keep on consuming, keep on doing it without any regard to the larger effects of the transactions. When do we pause to think about the effects of the zipping and zapping and what it really means, or has that been taken care of by self-regulating industrial trade groups and government regulations? Should there be some sort of collective awakening about the far-reaching effects of the everyday products we purchase?

When I think about it like this, I become enormously discouraged, knowing that my current job situation makes it all too easy to become one of the zippers and zappers. Driving here for a meeting, flying there for another, popping into the local D&D for an iced coffee or grabbing a bite at the airport. I don't travel all that much, and to be completely honest, some of my own "acts of commerce" are more ones of habit than necessity, but the system we inhabit as consumers is certainly designed to make it easy to buy things that may or may not be necessary.

Last night, I read an interesting passage in Dancing with the Tiger quoted from Stephen Haines regarding unconscious incompetence, the state we operate in relative to sustainability and consumerism,

...a very dangerous place to be. You are not conscious of the things
you cannot do and you are probably not even concerned about this lack of
competence.

When we begin to recognize this incompetence, it is a very uncomfortable feeling, as the authors write, "we feel inept and unskilled..." This sums up quite well what I feel when I attempt to get my head around what we need to accomplish in terms of sustainable business. It's a challenge that is enormously complex and seemingly impossible to solve, yet we have to figure out how to do it.

1 comment:

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