Consumerism and the Lost Art of Creativity

3 Oct, 2019

What if inventor Thomas Edison (1847 – 1931) could get a glimpse of how we live now? What would good ol’ Thomas think? I’m pretty sure his face would melt from awe and disbelief.  All because in the last 100 years, very creative people have solved mind-boggling problems and made things better, forever. These people knew in their entire being how to be creative.

Creativity sets us apart from other species in the world and makes us the dominant force. It’s because of creativity that we can deal with uncertainty. Creative people adapt quickly to changing situations because they know how to come up with new solutions.

We’ve covered the basics

But, the need for solutions to life and death situations that ask for radical innovation has massively declined. We’ve got the basics covered. The new model iPhone doesn’t have the same impact as the lightbulb (nice one Thomas!). The life-altering effect of the washing machine and refrigerator put an electric car or other ‘groundbreaking’ technology to shame.

We have a solution for every problem and a distraction for every second are minds wander into stillness. Creativity isn’t really on our radar anymore. Got a problem? Buy a solution. It’s that simple — all very effective, efficient, and convenient. But, creative? Not so much.

Even if you wanted to be unapologetically creative, the odds are against you that it will pan out.

Just one more

The odds are against you because society is set up in a way in which there’s little room to be creative. When you cover all the responsibilities of a job, taking care of a family, date night with friends, and paying bills, there’s simply not enough time and energy left to be creative. There’s just enough gas in the tank to crawl to the couch and turn on Netflix with a bag of chips and a bottle of soda.

We finish Game of Thrones and feel anxious to find the next show to binge-watch, because what else can we do with our lives? We’ve turned in over-consuming humans, and with each day that passes, we absorb more and more. Consumerism kicked creativity in the balls and left it crying in the corner, and we couldn’t care less.

Every single thing is optimized to trigger your attention and to get your hormonal factory running. Your inner addict craves the next thing to consume. It’s not your fault; your programming is this way. We all have.

We’re anxious to get our next shot: food, experiences, social media likes, information, we desperately need the high consumption gives us. It’s that ‘high’ that makes the consumer’s life worth living. We believe the next thing will finally make us happy or fulfilled, but it never lasts long.

The illusion of consumption

We’ve gone way beyond hedonism, where the goal is to maximize net pleasure (pleasure minus pain) in life and plan accordingly. Hedonism is a lifestyle where you know what you will and won’t indulge in and accept the consequences.

But, we’re not hedonistic. We’re consumers getting everything we can out of all we got. Fuck hedonism, that’s for pussies!

We consume to fill up our empty lives with some form of meaning. But, no matter how happy we think our new iPhone, designer jeans, or your new date will make us, that initial feeling of meaning and happiness will fade. It will fade fast because we adapt. This adaptation is what makes us resilient and able to take a hit, so we can be adventurous, creative, and grow as human beings. This adaptation is also why the ‘high’ of consumption never lasts.

Hedonistic adaptation

Enter hedonistic adaptation: the natural tendency of quickly returning to a stable level of happiness despite major positive or negative events or life changes.

What this means is that no matter what ridiculously fantastic thing you will buy, it will be just another piece of shit within a couple of weeks. Hence the reason the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, no matter which side you’re on.

So, here you are, with your empty life, only this time with yet another toy that rots on the shelf. And what do you do with that emptiness inside? Accept it and sit with it or consume more to get that jolt of hedonistic pleasure once again and saying to yourself that this time, it will last? I think the latter.

If consumerism is your way of living, well, then you’re pretty much fucked and doomed to be a slave to consumption, destined to become sick.

How consumption is making us sick

In society today, the goal is to encourage you to consume in ever higher amounts. It’s the ‘bigger is better‘ mentality. Fine dining made way for all you can eat and free refills. Movie night made way for Netflix, 24/7 available on all your devices. A focused and thoughtful one on one conversation with one of your friends is replaced with infinite scrolls through millions of messages screaming for your attention.

“So what,” you say, “let me experience the abundance consumerism has brought us.” Fair enough, but is it still an experience, or are we just mindlessly stuffing our brains, minds, and even emotions with everything we face?

If we keep consuming information, even when it’s useful information, we turn into overstimulated information zombies, paralyzed by analysis. We know all the theoretical bullshit in our heads, but freeze like a deer in a headlight when it comes to getting pragmatic. Keep cramming the harddisk with fragmented bits and bites, and eventually, it will crash.

Just swipe right

If we keep fucking every right swipe on Tinder, we do a whole lot of fucking, but never go through the full experience of building deep and meaningful relationships. There’s nothing wrong with a whole lotta fucking, but if we break off every relationship that goes beyond the superficial because we’re incapable of building human connection beyond fucking, we end up with a lot of fragmented fucks. Eventually, hedonistic adaptation is coming for our fucking asses. We won’t enjoy those shallow fucks anymore and turn into a lonely fucker.

If we keep eating everything we can get our hands-on, we turn into, well, look around you. The level of obese and sick people is insane, and many young kids nowadays can’t even make a sprint if their life depended on it. It doesn’t take a genius to realize that the way we eat is killing entire generations.

If we get stuck in a loop of consumerism, we’re drained of our life energy and not able to create. Even if we wanted to, we can’t get anything out of our hands, and so we consume some more and hope it leads to creativity, but it never does.

Where did our creativity go?

What do you do in your free time? For most people, the answer is consumption. Some people don’t even have hobbies. They’ve lost the ability to be creative. Give an adult a piece of paper and some paint, and chances are he doesn’t know what to do with it. No wonder, since our creative spark got quenched at an early age.

School pushed children into analytical, logical, and systematic thinking. Their playful and creative brain gets neglected and pushed aside. We thaught children that making mistakes is wrong, and so they stop trying. Follow the rules, raise your hand, color within the lines, keep your head down, and memorize pages 42 till 112, and you’ll be fine.

There’s no room to be an artist; you should be productive. Teens that tell their family and friends that they want to become artists hear things like: “You can’t make any money that way” and “don’t you think it’s time to grow up and get a real job?”.

Society conditioned us that things should be perfect and therefore make nothing because we’re scared it isn’t good enough. And if we make something, we hide it, ashamed of what the world will think of us. And so we consume. We consume because it’s safe. We don’t have to show ourselves, we just have to show up, and if it isn’t up to par, we join the bandwagon and shame the creator — consumerism at its finest.

How to be creative

If you look at what consumption is about, it’s about nourishing the mind, body, and soul. It’s about feeding yourself the right “nutrients” in the right amounts. Consumption is the start engine that gets you going. It’s that push that gets the rock just over the tipping point of the mountain, to soar down the path of creativity.

We read to get new ideas and ways to look at the world so that we can come up with new solutions. We engage and build relationships with other people so we can contribute to the community and feel a sense of belonging. And we eat, so we have the energy to become stronger and thrive in life.

Consumption should put you in a state of wanting to do things, wanting to be creative and playful, because in the playfulness is where the magic happens.

Children play and built sandcastles with full focus, only to tear it apart two minutes later, and this drives parents insane. But, we’re missing the point: Kids are creative for the sake of playing. We are creating for the outcome and think in terms of investment and end-results. Children just play.

For them, it’s never about the sandcastle. For us, the sandcastle is the only thing that matters.

Build sandcastles

So, create for the sake of playing, don’t worry about the outcome. Don’t think about what you want to make. Just create something. Open your mind and lose yourself in creativity and playfulness. Got a problem? Don’t buy a solution; get creative.

Play, build sandcastles, and fully engage. Oh, and dance on top of it before your inner addicted devil tells you to post it on Instagram.

Photo credit: Andre Benz