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Google and Consumerism

Ria Chainani


The first wave of consumerism hit in the early 18th century, with the event of the Industrial Revolution in England. Along with its GDP, Britain’s per capita income grew consistently during the 1680s to 1820s and was the fastest growing as compared to any other European country.

This consistent and remarkable rise in per capita income accompanied the rise of consumerism in Britain, which later was experienced globally. From a mere mode of survival, people now began to shift towards buying and producing luxuries, and introduced themselves to the world of leisure, comfort and entertainment. This also led to the creation of an economic cycle of production, consumption and rise in wages, causing an expansion in the economy. The colonization of south Asian countries by the British, allowed them to expand their economic cycle at a larger scale. This revolution was accompanied by the establishment of big factories, a drift of technological change by updated machinery, and large-scale production of cheap machine-made goods, encouraging the consumers to buy extra stocks of it.

Consumerism and consumer choices

With the spread of consumerism worldwide, the products produced were also redefined. The bare raw materials were replaced with delicacies and high-quality standards, the market also saw production of some of the most bizarre things which may not seem to be as absurd now. The production of unhealthy junk foods like burgers and pizzas and the concept of processed food also hit the market spheres like insane. With the changing times, consumer choices also changed, and consumers bought this junk happily!

So where does Google stand in this?

A bulk of Google’s revenue (prox. $162 billion) comes from its advertising services. Google advertises products based on your search algorithm which is aptly explained in a recently released Netflix documentary called Social Dilemma. The easiest way to understand this phenomenon is by keeping your smart phone near you and talking about a random product, and sooner or later, you will see the advertisement of the same product as you scroll through your timeline.

According to consumer psychology, in order to get a consumer’s attention, a producer must know why consumers are searching for a particular product, where they are looking, what kind of product they are looking for, and how extensively they are willing to search for the relevant information, and captivatingly Google knows it all! Therefore, Google advertises products which match the consumers’ taste in every scroll, and they are tempted to buy it. What’s outlandish is that with the advent of social media and its infinite scrolling feature, consumers have lost control over the kind of information they are exposed to, and their follow ups.

Moreover, with social media influencers influencing consumer choices and the infinite amount of information, we are more tempted to buy than ever. Therefore, Google and social media have amplified the process of consumerism significantly.

The dark side of consumerism

Now one may think, what’s wrong in buying things if we can? Well, welcome to the dark side of consumerism. It is said that unboxing new products gives one a hit of dopamine, the one which causes us happiness and excitement, but this chemical hit does not last long. The concept of fast fashion which is one of the resultants of frequent and habitual buying, comes with consequences of storing up huge piles of junk of outfits, which are no longer in fashion. In 2017, investment in self-storage facilities went up by $4 million in America. It is also believed that consumers like to store and stock stuff for the future, which explains the insanity behind the unusual acute shortage of toilet papers in America, amidst a pandemic. The growing number of products also comes with a growing amount of waste creation, the global waste is expected to grow by 3.40 billion tones by 2050 which is more than double the population growth during the same period. This hit of consumerism also encourages irrational spending on the part of consumers.

What next?

The opposition to consumerism is not new. Some argue that the culture of consumerism will only lead the society to consume more than the ideal level, redirecting people away from non-material values. Renowned economist Adam Smith, pointed out in his book “The Wealth of Nations”, that the benefits created by consumerism are such that this phenomenon cannot be stopped, but rather the wealth created by it should be used in the overall development of human society, systems of justice, and higher education. Such was his approach to consumerism, to bring the best sides of it and eliminate the possible side effects of it. Application of such an approach to present modern economies might not be fully effective but still calls for a sustainable and responsible approach of purchasing patterns on the part of consumers.

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