Senseless Materialism

Take a moment and think back to another age, when there were no cell phones, no beepers, no personal computers and no laptops. Life seemed so much simpler then. Today, there is a gimmick and ...

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Take a moment and think back to another age, when there were no cell phones, no beepers, no personal computers and no laptops. Life seemed so much simpler then. Today, there is a gimmick and a gizmo for everything under the sun. Everyone seems to have a technological toy to play with. Whether we need one or not!

We are a consumer society. Every day, there is an ad in the paper or on the radio attempting to sell us things we don't need for jobs, we can't stand. Consumer advertising is a billion dollar business. Its major operating principle is convincing you to buy products whether you need them or not.

Materialism is a real preoccupation in our culture. How many young people beginning a new school year spent money on school clothes they really did not need? How many school supplies were purchased and not really necessary for the classroom experience?

So many teenagers feel compelled to purchase things just so they can keep up with their peers. There is not a compelling need for all the technological toys that our kids tell us they must have to succeed during the school year. They make a disturbing case that if they don't get these things, they will be social outcasts.

As parents, we cave in to pressure and feel obligated to get what they say they need, whether they need it or not. Senseless materialism is consuming us. There is nothing wrong with having nice things, but at times, it seems we go to an extreme. We live in a culture where bigger is better and more is a necessity. Living simply seems to be out of the question.

Most of us parenting children were teenagers before the age of cell phones, computers and Ipods. Amazingly, we survived, and many of us did more than survive - we actually excelled, have great jobs and are making a difference in the world.

So the question to be raised is: how essential are all of these gadgets and gizmos in the upbringing of our children? Does an elementary school child need a cell phone with a camera and a music program? Is doing without this technological device putting that child at risk?

What about text messaging? How essential is that feature on a cell phone, whose main purpose is to be used for family communication and emergencies? Are all the other bells and whistles attached to cell phones and gadgets important or just another way to rip us off?

Those who market these products have been effective in convincing us that life would not be life without all of these toys. Unfortunately, many of our children, at an early age, are seduced into believing that all of this nonsense is essential for social acceptance and navigating life's course.

School is back in session. Many parents have gone to the poor house buying school clothes for their children. Here's another rip off - how many of our children were adamant about certain styles and certain labels? How many parents caved in to that nonsense? There's nothing wrong with looking good, however we need to set some reasonable parameters.

Spending hundreds of dollars that we don't have on clothes with labels that would be half the price without the labels is ridiculous. The competition that this incites too often creates tension in a child where it does not need to be. Most children are not fans of uniforms, and maybe in the public school arena that is an extreme. However, it might be worth looking at a dress code, especially with gang colors escalating all around us and the fact of inappropriate dressing running the gamut - clothes hanging off of people, other clothes skin tight, ripped jeans for style, t-shirts with provocative sayings and so much more.

It seems to me that school should not be a fashion arena or a place of constant distraction and provocation. It's supposed to be an environment that builds students up and encourages them to learn and grow as young people.

This year a growing number of schools have banned cell phones and Ipods from their school campuses. If there is an emergency, every school has enough access to phones to address any need a student might have. The schools that eliminated cell phones did so because of text messaging and the games students were playing during class time.

The schools that eliminated Ipods did so because they found so many students were being distracted and isolating themselves from their classmates because of their perpetual music. There was also a growing concern around thievery regarding this device, which is pretty expensive to replace.

Recently, in one of my sociology classes, I asked my college coeds if they felt as if our society had become too materialistic. Their responses were fascinating. Many of them felt that if you could afford to buy toys and your family didn't suffer, then it was fine and not being overly materialistic. There was a group of students who felt that we were too materialistic, because our material things were more important than people and relationships. I found that response intriguing!

As our class conversation continued, I asked the students who felt we were too materialistic to further elaborate. They indicated that too many people have become selfish and self-serving in their approach to life. They said it was troubling to them that things were more important than people. They felt that the media encouraged this narcissistic approach to life. They observed that more and more people are tuning out and plugging in, rather than speaking up and reaching out.

It is interesting to note, in a society that is blessed with so much, our interpersonal communication skills tend to be so weak. Our social science literature indicates that one of the principle reasons relationships are failing at such an alarming rate is that couples so not know how to communicate effectively with each other. Their weak communication skills make it impossible to problem solve their conflicts and difficulties.

The other point these college coeds made that I thought was most striking was their statement about human selfishness. A number of them noted that many of their peers were very self-serving and not interested in others or interested in making a contribution to the larger community. These same students spoke about career paths that were not driven by finances and/or greed, but rather were about making enough to support their families adequately and comfortably.

They were not scared off from considering careers in education and human services because the salary structures tend to be low. Rather, they were motivated for pursuing careers that would provide personal fulfillment and make positive contributions to our larger community. They also indicated that there was nothing wrong with making a lot of money. Their pointed comment was: what do you do with the money you make, are you willing to share your excess and try to make a difference?

It was an amazing conversation. I appreciated their candor and honesty, their diversity of viewpoints and most importantly, their ability to express themselves, see the difference in opinion and still leave the conversation respecting one another. I think we all learned something that day in that class.