I've been thinking a lot lately about the idea of consumption. In North America, we are all massive consumers, buying things every day that we may or may not even need. We devour crappy movies and questionably reliable news, and chase after social media fame. We eat whatever we want, whenever we want. Often, we don't even realize how much we rely on these things always being there until something happens like the internet going down for an afternoon, when it smacks us in the face. And as we become more dependent on these things that are so fleeting and not even tangibly real most of the time, caught up in this web of consumerism, I wonder something: are we consuming them, or if they are consuming us?
Food is probably the first thing your mind goes to when thinking about the idea of consumption. It's a very tangible thing that we take in every single day. This is good and healthy and necessary for us to thrive. Food is also a central part of virtually every culture. We gather around the table to share a meal and conversation; it binds friends and families together. Most holidays involve some element of eating together, feasting to celebrate whatever it is that we hold dear.
But what are we eating? And what do our eating habits say about us? The western world has turned into an empire of fast food and factory farming in an attempt to satisfy an ever-increasing mindset of instant gratification. We no longer have to go out and work the fields ourselves to put dinner on the table, and we don't even have to have farmer friends and neighbors either. We've become very distant from the reality of our food, from the processes and time it actually takes to raise animals, to cultivate plants. If we were suddenly responsible for the production of all of our own food, I'm sure most of us wouldn't have the first clue where to begin. I know I wouldn't. I'm certain I would quickly find myself curled up on the floor, stress crying. (So, shout out to farmers. I'd literally be dead without them.)
I bet most of us don’t even know what we're eating a lot of the time. The processed foods that we've come to rely on for the sake of convenience are full of ingredients we can hardly pronounce, let alone find growing naturally. They might taste good, but they are not a suitable replacement for whole, fresh ingredients. And they were never meant to become a staple in the way that they have for most of us. And the problem with artificial ingredients, particularly sweeteners, is that they're incredibly addictive. Once you've started making them a regular part of your diet, it's challenging to cut them out. We know they're not good for us, but we keep eating them anyway because finding other ways of feeding ourselves seems like too big a task.
But in all this, we prioritize taste and convenience over our physical health. Our bodies suffer from poor nutrition. We miss out on essential vitamins, and end up having to add them in as supplements (or don't add them at all). We eat drive-thru meals in the car on the way home, don't think about the things we're putting in our bodies. We don’t think.
How often do we mindlessly scroll through our news feeds, hoping that something new and exciting is going to materialize? Probably far too often. But the reality is that nobody ends a marathon Facebook session feeling like it was a great use of their time, and there are so many better ways to spend our time. But it rapidly becomes the default pose when we are bored, waiting, or alone. For many of us, it is hard to imagine how we actually communicated with people before everyone was just a Facebook message away, how we peeked into the vacation photos of friends before the days of Instagram, or expressed our thoughts without tweeting them.
One of the first blog posts I wrote for Joyfully, Alice was on giving up Facebook. I did it for an entire month, then reactivated it when I needed to get in touch with some people who I couldn't track down any other way. The one thing that I've held to, though, is keeping my notifications turned off. Because it's all going to be there in an hour or two when I intentionally check, and I find that having my phone constantly going off distracts me from being fully present. All that to say, I've learned a lot about myself and that I'm far too easily derailed by the phone buzzing in my pocket. Because it's incredibly addictive, refreshing the pages over and over to see if there's something new to see. And I still fight it regularly.
We end up comparing our lives to others and constantly trying to match or one-up our friends. We curate our profiles to be flawless, so show just the right angles and elements. We know that we are only showing slivers of our existence, but somehow we still fall into the trap of thinking that everyone else has a more exciting life than we do. We believe we're missing out as we sit on the couch in our pyjamas, but the reality is the photos you're looking at were probably posted by someone wearing pyjamas and sitting on a couch. But as much as we might know it, we don't think it in the moment. We don't think.
We've all been there, five hours into a major Netflix marathon, empty popcorn bowl and drinking glasses strewn about. "Are you still watching?" As though I would have left at such a critical point in the series?! Sleep is for the weak, or something.
We devour film and television in such ridiculous quantities much of the time, mindlessly passing our Saturdays and evening down time. Where we used to watch one episode a week, we take in entire seasons in the course of a weekend. We fall down the YouTube rabbit hole, somehow going from watching a quick how-to video to staring at a couple of giraffes fighting three hours later. And we laugh about it, because it's a fairly common occurrence. But what does it say about us that we spend so much time passively waiting for the next exciting thing to come along and entertain us? We shut our brains off and stop considering other things we could or should be doing, even when the things we are watching are not of great quality.
When was the last time you watched a film that caused you to truly think about what it means to be human, or about the relationships we value, or about taking action to create change? I know it's been a very long time since I saw one of those. I've seen some great action movies, full of stunning visual effects and sweeping soundtracks. I've watched TV shows that made me laugh about the quirky things that we all do. But very little of it is of substance. And it's started to bother me a bit because I don't want to pass all my free time staring at a screen in my half-dark living room. But we do it anyways, we don't like to think about what's actually going on. We don't think.
The problem is that we accept cheap substitutes for the real thing: we eat ultra-processed chemical-filled cardboard because it's easier; we settle for a collection of online connections rather than real-life relationships; we watch hours pass away on a screen that could have been used for so much more. And it's our lives on the line - we don't get any do-overs. As Thoreau said, "the price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it." Our values are a direct reflection of the choices we make, the ways we spend our time and energy.
This week I want to challenge us all to be more mindful of the ways in which we use our time, energy, and resources. If that means taking a few days to document the things you eat or creating a breakdown of how you spend your hours so the list stares you in the face, so be it. If it means intentionally reaching out to friends you haven't seen in a while, do that. Tackle one of those areas that you know you need to (because we all have at least one that we need to), and see what happens. Go for a walk without your phone. Read a *real* book. Cook dinner with friends.
Let's not be consumed by our habits; let's not let life pass us by. Let's reclaim the ground we've given up to passivity and remember the joy and passion that exists in our potential.
Tell me about your action plan in the comments! I'd love to hear what your thoughts are, and what you notice about your own habits.