Disposable Culture

We live in a culture of disposability. Supermarket aisles are lined with disposable cups and plates, with food in disposable packaging, each item with an expiration date, when the food will become disposable as well (what leftovers haven’t already been thrown out). In department stores and malls, items are encased in elaborate, inefficient packaging, meant to be discarded after every purchase. Many products are intentionally manufactured to be temporary.

Razors, sponges, shoes, clothes, electronics — all are meant to be discarded and replaced, some after only a few days and some after years. Consumerism runs rampant.

We’re more interested in convenience and immediacy than responsibility and lasting value.

But the disposable tendencies of our culture go beyond the tangible. Old software is abandoned and left to die, its usefulness spoiled by incompatible updates. Pop music is produced not for long-lasting relevance, but for evanescent popularity. Entire media organizations are built on producing cheap, fleeting content that will attract momentary attention and then be forgotten, left to rot in cyberspace in digital landfills, engulfed by the next round of valueless “content.” Tweets are hastily written and released like post-it notes in the wind, most being relevant for a moment (if that) before joining the growing mass of irrelevant, out-of-context and mostly useless digital detritus. Creation is driven not by a desire to create something of lasting value, but by desperate lust for the short-lived benefits of evanescent attention. Pageviews and profit.

Just as disposable products and other waste fill the world’s landfills, digital debris is littered across servers and hard drives, threatening to bury the things that actually deserve to be remembered.

From our homes to our digital devices, ours is a culture obsessed with immediate benefit, regardless of the consequences. We forsake our future for the present, while we disavow our role and play at being powerless to make a difference.

And yet we are responsible for our situation, and more importantly, we are responsible for change. Disposability is a choice. Littering, both physically and digitally, is a choice. Placing popularity and profit over value is a choice. Considering the short-term effects while disregarding the longterm ones is a choice.

So what can be done? Use the things you have as long as possible. Recycle (and not only through official channels). Repair. Sell or donate old stuff. Buy things that will last, while using intentionally disposable products as little as possible. Think of the impact before throwing something away, and before buying something disposable (or something new). Seek sustainable alternatives.

Think before sharing a link or updating your status. Even if everything, down to life itself, is ultimately transitory, strive to create value that will endure. Consider relevance and context.

Place lasting value over beguiling immediacy; sustainability over disposability. Recognize consequence and consider the results of actions. Be mindful and above all, be responsible.

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