Mass Consumption and our Sense of Meaning

How odd is the juxtaposition between our mass consumption culture and the meaning of our lives? On the one hand, mass consumption gives us a perspective of the unlimited: there’s always more to consume, it’ll always be there, it’ll always replenish. On the other hand, our lives are inherently finite: you only get one childhood, you always figure out life too late, youth is wasted on the young, you’re going to die someday.

It’s kind of distressing to think about. Mass consumerism asks us to buy in (literally and figuratively) to the idea of limitlessness. It asks us to ignore, to not even think about, the fact that our lives are not at all limitless. There will be a new iPhone every year, the grocery store shelves will always be restocked, but I’m 27 years old and my childhood is long over and I’m never going to get another one.

Maybe it’s more comforting to think in the consumption mindset, that there will always be another book, another tv show to watch on Netflix, another hamburger to eat at McDonalds, a longer infinite list to scroll through. But it’s also really dissatisfying how little that lines up with my life, how much, in fact, it denies what my life is like. Consumerism doesn’t give me a frame of reference to make sense of my life, to understand what it means to age or to have a finite set of choices (and I bet looking at life as “a finite set of choices” only makes sense as a perspective because of consumption culture; we probably wouldn’t look at life as being limited without mass consumption as our default way of looking at the world).

I’m sure this is well covered in philosophy and I’m certainly not suggesting I’m the first person to think of, just that, jeez this sort of thing has been hitting me hard lately and I don’t know how to make sense of it.

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