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Because the Product Tells Me So

My pack of gum reminds me to “dispose of it properly” and on the back of my bottle of pop is a graphic reminder of the importance of recycling. These products function as proxy for their manufacturers, delivering for Cadbury and Coke an image of environmental concern and notion that as user I need to be reminder. I suppose I am a forgetful customer, one whose lack of interest or attention span may lead to to incorrectly dispose of these products, but do I need to be corrected? At what point do products deliver enough?

I purchase a package of chewing gum for the product contained within. The small bits of flavored rubber perform a function in my life and warrant my continued use. Change this product and I may look elsewhere. That which I buy performs the function that I select. For gum this function is “item to chew.”

Where do products cross the line of suggested use? When does a product’s imposition of utility become more than I desire? A minor suggestion on my package of gum is too minor to warrant a reaction, but a line exists and can be breached. Products that limit my intake or connect me to greater social causes my lead to look elsewhere. Is my purchase leading to a charitable fund? Can I reasonably expect my purchase to not create harm for someone else? Though my control in these situations is limited, I find that the very act of consumerism is quickly becoming less a simple transaction and more an act of social theater.

Today’s capitalism is one in which transactions exist on multiple plains. Enlivened by the greater knowledge that technology provides, our purchases now can be linked and tracked beyond our simple use. Products and purchases become complicated when we can see where the money goes and, given the variety of sources that can provide us with similar products (for example a cup of coffee) our selection of who or where allows us to endorse or deny causes connected to our purchase. No longer do we simply buy a cup of coffee. For many companies our act of purchasing becomes a complicated link to greater actions. Are we ready for these connections or do we rather prefer the simple “I want this so I buy it” relationship with companies. I only wanted a stick of gum but my purchase of these sticks of rubber has become something more, something far beyond my individual needs. Do I want this relationship to exist? Can I control it? Chew on.

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