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Producer vs. consumer

I just spent a long time paging through Colin's blog, looking for a graph he drew with a bell curve, representing something like consuming vs. happy.  He shows optimal points of happiness and resource consumption, demonstrating that you can take the consumption down a lot but at a certain point too much reduction becomes deprivation and the happiness dwindles. 

Anyway.  I couldn't find the picture but want to use the same idea to talk about resource consumption vs. resource production, which is something I experienced acutely this last (freegan) month and at various points during the Fix year.  Not buying anything in July (supposedly) meant that I was not consuming but rather producing.  Generally I see a ton of shows - dance, theatre, visual art - but last month I cut that out almost completely.  Going on errands, which are usually to buy things, are time-consuming and distracting.  I didn't do much of that last month, which gave me time to be producing.  Producing dinner, of course, but also entertainment, ideas, and creative solutions.  And art, which is of particular importance to me.   And I think I've identified this - producing - as one of they key ways to transform our culture.

Most people I know don't produce anything in their jobs; mostly they just push paper around.  Somewhere down the line maybe something gets produced but often that's not the case.  And I've noticed, among green bloggers and others, that when people produce things they're happy about - food from their gardens, clothes from recycled materials, tangible ways of helping others - they feel more satisfied and less desirous of things.  Of course economists note that Americans don't produce much these days, and it might signal a big problem for the future.  I'd like to think that if we become more productive - not in the modernist, perfectionist sort of way, but rather in an imperfect, grassroots kind of way - we might be less dependent on consumption.  Consumption of things like tv, and gossip, and convenience products.  Which, incidentally, have been known to be harmful to the environment and society.

For me, the production vs. consumption spectrum can get too productive and then somewhat destructive for me personally.  When I have to come up with alternatives for every consumer product, and run all over town looking for some lower impact solution, my happiness also gets compromised.  Everything feels hard.  Which definitely isn't the point.  And I'd like to leave room for the idea that not everyone wants to be a producer.  It's difficult for me to watch wasters and haters let everyone else do the work for them, but I think there's something oppressive and wrong about assuming that everyone wants to be cheerfully tending a garden or making their own clothes.  It's sad that personal trauma, bad luck, or simply a bad attitude keeps people from finding something they're passionate about making or doing, but I think it's a reality that active, involved people have to swallow, without getting too smug.   So I'm not sure how a balance can be achieved, and for now I'm going to keep believing that one of the key ways of addressing our current environmental and social problems will be by transforming ourselves from greedy consumers into prolific producers - of ideas, art, magic, local goods, and positive, no-stuff solutions.
Posted on Wednesday, August 13, 2008 at 11:24PM by Registered CommenterMegan Metcalf | Comments6 Comments

Reader Comments (6)

Spot on Megan! Through not consuming I no longer have that feeling of "Oh gosh I just have to get to Target (or wherever) today." I'm no longer burdened by this type of errand and have so much more time to spend with my little one, working on our house, or doing something crafty. Less stress and more fun! But there are certainly times when it's not worth driving to every Goodwill in town to find a used low-flow shower head, so I bite the bullet, purchase new and get on with my life.

Love your blog - thanks for sharing with us!

August 14, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterKellie

Thanks so much, Kellie - and thanks for reading!

August 14, 2008 | Registered CommenterMegan Metcalf

I think you're on to something. I just blogged about "producing" a skirt and it makes me so happy to wear it knowing that I made it. It's fun learning to make/create things myself. However, I think another reason people don't "produce" is laziness - this is something I fall prey to all the time. As in, I could finish that painting, or I could just dilly dally on the internet/watch TV/go to a bar/etc. I think it would be great if we could put more energy into inspiring the people around us and ourselves to spend more time creating and less time doing nothing.

August 14, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterJulia

Yes, Julia - this is where it gets tricky. 'Cause "laziness," or rest, or whatever, is what helps us get ready to produce more and new ideas, experiences, etc. And sometimes going for a drink with a friend is actually "producing" conversation, ideas, friendly contact, whatever. When we're lazy or in "consume" mode, then we benefit from everyone else's "produce" mode.

But most would agree that lately we've been too much on the receiving end and that such a thing as laziness exists. I mean, when I think about Fresh Direct and their idling trucks, it's like..."well, did you look around for good grocery stores before you moved into your hipster/remote/uncool neighborhood? If you didn't, then you deserve to have to carry home heavy bags of groceries and thus spare the kids in my hood from asthma." It's really just energy, and lots of people have it but think they're too important/cool/busy to use it. But no one can really dictate when others should use their energy or not, so we end up in our current situation because it's just easier. I don't know what the right balance is, but it doesn't seem like this is it.

Enjoy your new skirt!

August 15, 2008 | Registered CommenterMegan Metcalf

It looks a bit like a child's doodle, but I think this is what you're looking for:


August 16, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterMandyPandy

Yes! Thanks, MandyPandy! So, Zone 1 would be where you're making everything yourself, at the expense of social contact, professional goals, etc. I definitely felt this at moments during Fix. Zone 2 would be where you're making stuff and still enjoying it, and buying things from people who are making stuff and enjoy it. Zone 3 would be where all you do is watch and buy and take and you contribute very little.

August 17, 2008 | Registered CommenterMegan Metcalf

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