Burroughs Adding Machine

Social justice, arts and politics, life in New York City

Ignore the Actual Cost of Your iPod. What’s the Real Expense?

Consumption. Capitalism. Environmentalism and government intervention and global resource management. Big words, often abstracted to the point of little meaning. What do these “isms” have to do with your iPod?

Writer Annie Leonard breaks it down in The Story of Stuff. “You can’t run a linear system on a finite planet,” she says, before launching into the interrelation between your iPod and the big box stores and toxic ecology and global labor forces. Perhaps a bit simplistic at points, but useful as a primer (or wake-up call). It’s often difficult to remember the tremendous natural resources needed to manufacture and consume the products in our everyday lives.

It shouldn’t be a shock to any of us, but the U.S. is a nation of consumers. It’s the main component of our American identity. Not cultural traditions or human diversity or unified pride in our people. We define ourselves through the stuff we buy. Even comedians recognize our love of stuff, and hilariously skewer it.

A bit of cultural exchange with our Ugandan friends: we brought Jiffy Pop, they roasted corn from their garden.

Maybe a small bit of proselytizing, but I’ll say it anyway: traveling in January to Uganda and Rwanda, a concrete thing I took away was not the poverty of the people, but the excess of American consumption. I and my students had so much stuff. Rarely did we notice the cumulative amount of our things–handheld iPod speakers, baseball caps, four or five bottles of sanitizer–in contrast to the folks we visited.

It was easier for us to discuss how Rwandans had nothing, rather than that we, as Americans, had so much.

So what’s the real cost of your iPod? Not the retail value, but the actual expense on our environment, our quality of life, the complexity of our cultures?

How do we justify, as Leonard points out in analyzing a $4.99 radio, the hidden costs: “the metal probably mined in South Africa, the petroleum was probably drilled in Iraq, the plastics were probably produced in China, maybe the whole thing was assembled by some 15 year-old factory worker in Mexico”? How does our careless spending (the majority here in the U.S.) wreak havoc on limited resources–both natural and economic–across the planet?

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Filed under: africa, consumerism, economy, , , , , , , , ,

2 Responses

  1. David says:

    I agree with you, and had pretty much the same reaction after returning to the states from a third world country, but when you juxtapose consumerism to “cultural traditions” or “unified pride in our people,” I’m thinking, whoa wait a sec, those things scare me too.

  2. […] is our anger? Have we become too comfortable with all our stuff? Why is it only now, after more than a month since the oil leak started, are we only seeing the […]

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About Me

Ricco Villanueva Siasoco is a Manhattan-based writer and non-profit manager. More

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