Consuming the World
The world in which we live has changed and is changing at a remarkable rate. Our culture--what we might call the Western Way--has spread touching and impacting every culture and society. Many people are no longer isolated and "indigenous societies" are in deplorable circumstances. If not in "terminal phases" of acculturation; many have in fact died out and are lost to future generations.3 Indigenous peoples and the known third world countries exist in detrimental poverty compared to their American and Western counterparts. Transnational corporations hold or employ many of their natural or human resources. The entire world has been undergoing rapid, dramatic culture change over the last century. We have a global economy knit together and forever (using the metaphor of Thomas L. Friedman) "flattened." Regional economic independence and self-determination no longer exist.
In the year 2000, 51 of the 100 biggest economies in the world were corporations. More than 20 million Americans now work for major transnational corporations, often in other countries.5 The rate of globalization has been accelerating over the last decade. Contributing factors in making the world a smaller place have been the spread of Internet and e-mail access as well as massive levels of international travel. Meanwhile most people in underdeveloped nations do not travel and only 1% of people in the Middle East and Africa have internet. I once wrote in my diary these words from Murray Sheard, whose essay is now lost to me but whose words are perhaps profoundly important to us today, "Religion has declined whenever consumerism gets hold of a nation. Religion is also seen as a barrier to consumption. It's something people are committed to above their own appetites."
American Pop Culture
Americans have appetites. We hunger to eat, drink and own. As many of you know Americans consume 25% of the global resources and are 5% of the population. If everyone on the planet consumed as we do, we would need four other planets for the waste.6 We twitter and tweet. We Facebook and MySpace. We EBay and Craig's list. We blog and epublish. We Ifun, ITune, IPod and IPhone. We Wii and XBox. One million, thirty-nine thousand and thirty one people subscribe to the New York Times, while TV Guide has 9,072,609 subscribers and battles it out with Better Homes and Gardens who has 7,602,575 subscribers.7
Some of our cultural core values according to George Barna in his book Boiling Point are:
convenience, options for expression, time maximization, belonging, comfort, experiences, happiness, independence, flexibility, authenticity, education options, entertainment, diversity, customization, participation, gender equality, technology, instant gratification, meaning, skepticism, image, control, relevance, impact/influence, personal empowerment, relationships, self-image, simplicity, compassion, teamwork, integrity, youth care, family cohesion, humor tolerance, volunteerism, reciprocity, generosity, networking, spiritual depth, risk taking, change, wealth, physical health, and achievement.
I can take my whole music collection, the first season of the television show the "Big Bang Theory," a selection of my favorite movies, and the latest news from my top podcasts from NPR to Wall Street Journal everywhere I go on my telephone, which I can use to update my social networks, figure out my global position, level a picture or call a friend.
As Jack in "Fight Club" wondered in 1996:
"The Klipske personal office unit, the Hovertrekke home exer-bike. Or the Johannshamnh sofa with the Strinne green stripe pattern...Even the Rislampa wire lamps of environmentally-friendly unbleached paper. I would flip through catalogs and wonder 'what kind of dining set defines me as a person?' I had it all. Even the glass dishes with tiny bubbles and imperfections, proof they were crafted by the honest, simple, hard working people of...wherever. We used to read pornography. Now it was the Horchow Collection.Video clip: Who do you say that I am?