Consuming Experiences

krista rittenhouseWhen I sit down to think about how I want to live in this world, words like simplicity and compassion come to mind. I could probably find a large group of students who also want to live by those words. However, recently I have been challenged to think that our definition of consumerism may need to be expanded to include consuming experiences; this may challenge the way we live with the commonly held ideals of simplicity and compassion.

My gut response to consumerism is disgust. This drive our society feels to take in more and more things–it is selfish, destructive, and wasteful, right? People are so ready to spend money on technology, one more pair of shoes, or a new DVD. Society would teach us that these things give us value. One’s status is shown through this physical display of wealth. All this goes against my understanding of Jesus’ teaching on how we ought to live.

Do we not consume experiences just as we consume products? Is that not the same thing? Can I apply the same critique to consuming experiences? If my critique of consumerism is that it means living with excess, is a quest for status, and is wasteful, can I not say the same about traveling or other exciting activities?

We have this desire for new experiences, with the excitement and/ or learning that comes out of that. I have visited a good number of States within the US, and have been to South America three times–but how much did that cost me? Those experiences were arguably not necessary, and the money could have been put towards something different. Instead of looking for the next new or cool product, are we looking for the next new experience with the same drive?

Just like the display of wealth, these experiences also demonstrate status. When someone says that they have traveled to x number of countries, or seen x number of concerts, this increases social status. I have felt this at EMU. If a student has not yet left the country, there is a stigma to not having ‘expanded their world view.’

And consumerism is wasteful. Look at the landfills and the pollution that is produced in manufacturing. But a trip to visit friends half way across the country, or a really cheap flight to Europe? How do we compare the pollution and degradation coming from the use of that fuel? Consuming experiences does not avoid waste.

So does living simply and compassionately mean simply avoiding the storing up of physical treasures? What is the value of those experiences? Because I would still like to argue that a lot of good can come out of them. Does living compassionately mean learning to identify with other peoples, seeing their lives, and understanding their worldview? Or does it mean not using up more than my fair share of resources?

We are all consumers. The question is, what are we consuming? Is it material goods or experiences, which are also come with a cost? Our understanding of this issue must then inform our way of living in the world.

-Krista Rittenhouse, Contributing Writer


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