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The Carletonian

The Carletonian

Creative Consumption

<rmation overload is a bit scary.  There are so many new ideas, thoughts, beliefs, and opinions coming out every second that it seems impossible to keep up.  I find this incredibly stressful; it makes me feel that for every second I’m not keeping up I’m slowly slipping behind.  On the other hand, it’s also stressful because sucking down information means being “a consumer” reading and discarding bits of data for their usefulness and throwing them away. 

We are often told that production is the opposite of consumption; in order to “escape” the confines of consumer culture, we must ourselves become producers.  But that notion seems incredibly backward.  In fact, I will many times consume as much or more material towards the goal of completing a class than I do in “real life”.  After all, we don’t just produce work for production’s sake, we produce work because it’s fun to enjoy as well. 

I don’t think the problem lies in the consumption of goods.  “Consumption” is fun.  Reading is fun, listening to a podcast or a lecture is fun, watching tv or a movie is fun, playing a game is fun.  But these are all acts of consumption, acts that (in theory) reinforce the very consumer culture that is so poisonous and destructive.

But the problem is, producing goods faces just as many pitfalls as consuming them.  When someone writes a poem, script a play, gives a lecture, they are faced with as many (or more) challenges to the validity of their production of that content.  Just because they can make something doesn’t mean it’s meaningful. 

I am not saying that producing or consuming is evil.  The separation that is often drawn between the two is simply false.  The important point isn’t whether we consume or produce, it’s how we consume and produce.

Rejecting consumer culture does not mean rejecting consumption as a facet of life, it means rejecting the method by which consumer culture asks us to consume the material that surrounds us.  Being an active consumer means to engage with not only the object’s purpose but also its meaning.   To actively consume means to use that object for one’s own ends and one’s own goals, not just the goals that have been outlined for me.

That way, the act of consuming adds its own layer of interpretation, it’s own process.  Having actively consumed the book and the material, the object has a new relationship, a relationship that is personal and intimate, but this relationship can only exist if it is actively consumed and engaged with. 

Creatively consuming something means to not consume it at all, the interaction becomes a transfer, an exchange instead of an extraction.  The object gives meaning in the form of information or enjoyment, but the user gives it a locale, a time, a space, and an emotion.  The object, having history, is now no longer yet another item to be consumed and discarded but an individual, an identity.

The problem is that creative consumption is hard and time consuming.  It seems the difference between scarfing food down and chewing it to enjoy the flavor.  Creative consumption means taking time, slowing down, and accepting that it is impossible to read and digest all of the information in the world. 

It’s incredibly difficult, and probably impossible to do all the time, but it can be incredibly relieving, to distancing from the goals and the products, and reconnecting with the place, time, and computer that a 30 page paper was written on, seeing an iPhone not just as an efficient object for time management (and as an embodiment of a social life), but as an identity, with a history and an experience that is actually quite meaningful. 

Is it possible (or even advisable) most of the time?  Probably not.  But maybe if we could all find and recognize those spaces and objects in our lives where we creatively and actively engage the information, overload wouldn’t feel quite so overwhelming after all.

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