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Our future, our universe, and other weighty topics


Tuesday, June 16, 2015

The Case For Denying "Like" Votes To Conspicuous Consumption Posts

For a long time Americans have engaged in what is called conspicuous consumption. Conspicuous consumption means spending money on something largely in hopes that other people will notice how you have spent, and think to themselves: wow, he must make good money, or wow, he must be raking in the dough.

Back in the 1960's, conspicuous consumption was a little bit hard to practice. If you bought a new car, it was pretty easy – you would just leave the car parked out in front of your house where people would be sure to notice it. But if you bought some fancy new household item, it might be a lot harder to get people to notice it. For example, if you bought a 26-inch color TV (which most people didn't have in those days, because they were pretty expensive), you might have to throw a party to get people to notice your fancy new expenditure. Or if you went on an expensive vacation, you would have to make sure to send postcards to all of your friends, so that they would notice your lavish consumption.

But nowadays it is so much easier to practice conspicuous consumption. You simply spend some money lavishly, and then go to your favorite social media, to make a type of post that I call a conspicuous consumption post. Such a post is designed to get your friends to say to themselves: wow, he must have a pile of cash.

A "conspicuous consumption" post on social media looks like this

These days the conspicuous consumption post has become so common that what I will now suggest may be regarded as an unforgivable social heresy. What I suggest is that in most cases when you see this type of “conspicuous consumption" post, you should deliberately not grant it a “like” vote on your social media.

There are four reasons I can think of for denying “like” votes to conspicuous consumption posts. The first reason is that when many hundreds of millions of people practice conspicuous consumption, it tends to worsen global warming. Most examples of conspicuous consumption involve increasing your carbon footprint, the amount of carbon dioxide that you are contributing to the atmosphere. If, for example, you take your vacation by traveling all the way to a Pacific island to go swimming (rather than swimming at your local beach), you are greatly increasing your carbon footprint. Or, to give another example, if you buy a second or third car that you don't really need, the manufacture of such a car involved (directly or indirectly) a large increase in your carbon footprint. So if conspicuous consumption practiced by the masses is a large contributor to global warming, then we should not be encouraging conspicuous consumption --- and it seems that we do encourage it when we give “like” votes to social posts that trumpet someone's conspicuous consumption. Such votes establish a kind of reward system for conspicuous consumption behavior that may be inappropriate from an environmental standpoint.

The second reason I can think of for denying “like” votes to conspicuous consumption posts is that such votes may encourage behavior that (when practiced by many millions) tends to worsen the problem of resource depletion. Resource depletion is the fact that many important human resources such as oil, coal, water, and various metals are being used up at an alarming rate, creating a severe danger that within a few decades there may be grave shortages of some of these things. There is a quite significant chance that oil production may peak within 10 or 20 years, and that oil shortages will be one of the biggest problems of the 21st century. As discussed here, we are tapping out many of the aquifers that are used to supply freshwater, meaning that water shortages may be one of the biggest problems of the 21st century. The projected supply of some of the main metals used by consumers is only a few decades. Given such troubling resource depletion issues, it would seem that to live frugally and modestly is the most socially responsible way to live, not to live according to a “conspicuous consumption” lifestyle. It would also seem that we should not (with our social media votes) be encouraging conspicuous consumption in our friends.

The third reason I can think of to avoid giving “like” votes to conspicuous consumption posts is that such posts may help to encourage unwise or inadvisable financial behavior. Here's an example. You know a restaurant cook in Westerly, Rhode Island, a guy who is struggling to meet his mortgage. Rather than taking his vacation enjoying the beautiful beaches near Westerly, the cook takes his vacation in insanely ritzy and ridiculously expensive spots in southern France. The cook then puts up some social media posts, hoping to get those “like” votes. By giving such posts “like” votes, you are encouraging this guy to engage in the same financially reckless behavior next year. It would seem to be better if such a person gets no social media reward, and starts to spend his money more cautiously.

Or, to give an another example, suppose you know some old man (with two adult daughters) who is using up his modest savings on a “bucket list” tour of the world. If you see his social media posts of this tour, why give “like” votes that almost send an “I approve of you spending money this way” message (if you actually think he should be saving the money so that his daughters can inherit it)?

The fourth reason I can think of to avoid giving “like” votes to conspicuous consumption posts is that if we reduce the number of conspicuous consumption posts, perhaps our social media experiences will become more intellectually and spiritually rewarding. Aren't you sick of an endless stream of “look what I bought” posts and “look at this fancy place I went to” posts? Wouldn't it be better to read more social media posts that explore the feelings and ideas of your friends, rather than how they are spending their money?

I admit that denying “like” votes to conspicuous consumption posts is difficult, so let me suggest some exceptions to such a rule (so I won't sound like such a dour old skinflint). If I know someone spends his money responsibly, and doesn't have too high a carbon footprint, I may well give him a “like” vote for a conspicuous consumption post, particularly if I think the consumption he is displaying is just a kind of “rare indulgence” type of thing. If a conspicuous consumption post shows some great scene of natural beauty, or some scene of tender emotion, I will also give a “like vote” to that, on the grounds that my “like” vote is a salute to the scenery or the emotion, rather than the related consumption. Also, if a person says something clever or witty in his conspicuous consumption post, I may also give a “like” vote to it, on the grounds that I am saluting that person's words rather than his conspicuous consumption.

But what if you see the ordinary, uninspired, all-too-common “look at my lavish feast at this fancy restaurant” post or “look at my fancy hotel room” post or “look at this expensive thing I just bought” post? My suggestion is: stiff them, by not clicking that “like” button.