Is it no wonder we crave that which we don’t need? Every time I open a new web browser on my Mac computer I get a picture of the new iPhone in yet another pretty color – they even have it in gold now.

Is that like a gold card?

Do you get extra perks or priority seating if you book your airline tickets with your gold iPhone? Can you go through security ahead of everyone else?

Certainly, those who run the marketing department of Mac are no dummies! They know that if they show us enough pretty pictures of a new, clean, gleaming phone in your favorite color – soon enough you will be craving it. In fact, one of my dear friends, who is about to become a Zen priest, told me that she is craving a new iPhone and that the craving will not stop until she gets it. I suggested that perhaps she needed to sit on her cushion more and deal with her craving before she is ready to be ordained!

But this is the nature of capitalism and consumerism and the downside of it too. We live in a culture where buying and consuming the latest and greatest gadget – without any awareness of or concern for the impact of constantly creating new and better products so that we can buy things more quickly from our phone without being inconvenienced by having to wait an extra two minutes, or where we can speak into the phone so we don’t have to waste precious time typing – is the norm.

We do not know or bother to ask who made those phones? How much did they earn? Do they have enough money to afford shelter and food for their family? What about an education for their children? How is their health care? And how is the never-ending productivity stream impacting their environment and health as well as our own? If the actual costs of these products were included in the price, would we be so quick to buy the latest and greatest gadget that looked pretty or was in our favorite color?

And what kind of culture do we live in that places greater value on playing to our lowest cravings rather than our highest ideals? The capitalist marketplace has done a great job of making purchasing, buying and craving a religion of its own. We stand in line for hours to get the newest version of a toy; we wrestle in stores to get to the sale items first.

I have taught my kids that when you watch commercials they are actually selling you something and that you need to learn to be a discerning shopper. Sometimes after watching a commercial (I don’t have a tv at my house but their dad does as do all of their friends) my kids will want to get the item that was advertised – an item they did not know existed prior to the commercial, nor were their lives any less wonderful without that item. I explain that the marketing agents are brilliant, look how they just got you to want something you did not even know existed and you did not even think or care about prior to seeing it on a commercial.

I wonder what our world would look like if instead of selling items we not only do not need but are destroying the very planet on which we depend to survive, commercials instead offered moments of quiet reflection, meditation, thoughtful and provoking questions about the show you were watching, shared ways you could contribute to make sure that everyone on the planet had enough to eat, etc. Would we be craving endless toys and gadgets or might we get up off our asses and do something to create a world where everyone’s needs are met?

OK, I know, this is impossible, advertisers would never agree to this so we’d either have to have all programs publicly funded, which would create another problem because then it might just be the voice of the government. How could we ensure airtime for competing views? Well, here’s another idea – what if we required advertisers to pay equal time for such “commercials” (right after their ad) that forced us to think about how the content of the show itself may be selling us ideas about how to live and the need for endlessly MORE stuff, ideas which we should want to resist. Just a suggestion! Do you have other ideas to help us overcome the psychological manipulation we experience when we watch commercials, etc.?

 


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