Quick Unconsumption update

The Unconsumption blog is getting more & more interesting, as more participants have joined in. I recommend that you check it out.

For the moment I think there are enough contributors — with one exception. I would still love to get somebody to help in checking out and finding highlights from the many “garbloggers” out there. If that sounds interesting to you, definitely get in touch: murketing@robwalker.net.

The blog is one phase of the unconsumption idea; I have two more phases in mind. I’m aiming to say more about Phase Two next week.

Meanwhile, if you find the general subject interesting/worthwhile but don’t have time to contribute, that’s cool — maybe help spread the word? Thanks.

Thanks also to Eyecube for this writeup & Listenerd for this mention, too.

Unconsumption & Help Wanted update

[3/25 update: I've now got several contributors to the Unconsumption blog, but if you have strong ideas about what you'd like to contribute I'd still be happy to hear from you. Also stay tuned for news of the next phase of this project, coming soon. In the short term, check out the blog, and if you like it, tell your friends, or better yet hype it to a high-powered famous online personality or entity.]

So a few weeks back I announced the Unconsumption Tumblr blog, the latest iteration of my unconsumption interests.

Couple of updates and thoughts. First, at the time I read a blog reaction somewhere (I forget where) speculating that this was some kind of trial balloon or first step in researching a new book. Not so!

First, I have no intention of writing another book about consumer behavior, material culture, etc.*

Second, I see unconsumption as an extension of Buying In, not a potential sequel. I always wanted the “sell” on Buying In to be that it was a book that would “help you change the way you shop/consume,” by pulling back the curtain on contemporary murketing practice as well as workings of the consumer mind revealed by behavioral psychology. (Instead the “sell” ended up being more along the lines of “you are what you buy,” which to me didn’t really communicate the idea that reading the book could help you make better consumption decisions. But oh well.) In other words, the unconsumption concept flows directly out of my own conception of a book that I’ve already written.

And in any case, unconsumption is not a very book-y idea — it’s meant to be more open-ended. It’s not a definitive statement. See a few of the suggested notions of unconsumption on the Tumblr blog.

And — here’s the point — help us make it better.

As before, I am actively seeking collaborators on this project. I don’t want to own it, I just want to throw it out there. I want it to be a framework for a different way of thinking about the secret dialogue between what we buy and who we are.

The first step is getting more contributors to the unconsumption blog. I could particularly use some involvement from somebody who is a closer follower of sites like Worldchanging and Treehugger and similar sites that I don’t always have time to check out — to find the on-point items on such sites to add to the gallery of unconsumption thought and resources. Personally I think Tom and I are doing a reasonably interesting job of surveying & curating online unconsumption ideas, but your help might make it even better.

If you’re interested, let me know. I am inviting you, right now. Collaboration. Open-source. All that.

So: Email me at: murketing@robwalker.net.

The next step would be the creation of an unconsumption wiki, something Tom & I have discussed a bit. More on that later — though if you have an immediate reaction to that hint then, again, get in touch.

All of this is, for me, an exercise in trying to contribute something positive to the public discourse on consumer behavior — rather than simply making pronouncements, trend-pro-style. Trying to be proactive, not just reactive.

[* Not that I wouldn't like to publish a Consumed collection, which is something a number of people have asked about. The present stumbling block to that would be, you know, convincing a publisher that somebody would buy it. Interested publishers are also invited to get in touch!]

Unconsumption & Help Wanted (part 1)

I’ve been expanding on the idea of unconsumption, as originally explored in this old post, and then this page. (And to an extent in this Consumed column.)

Here is the latest development: I have lately started a Tumblr blog called unconsumption. I’m getting some help from regular Murketing Organization contributor Tom Hosford. If you go unconsumption.tumblr.com, you’ll find a working expanded definition of what unconsumption is all about. If you browse through what Tom and I have put on the site thus far, you’ll get an even better idea.

And:

1. I really hope you will check it out. Here’s the link again.

2. I hope you will spread the word about it.

3. If you would like to be involved as a contributor, I hope you will let me know. There are lots of relevant blogs etc. that I just don’t have time to read and search for useful unconsumption-related links. I think this project will be more successful if there are more people involved as contributors to the Tumblr blog. So get in touch at murketing@robwalker.net.

4. Please?

This is more or less phase 1 of the newly revitalized unconsumption project.

More soon.

Craft and “green”

A recent-sh installment of CraftyPod focuses on “Crafting Green.” What does that mean? That question is actually the theme of the episode, and if you’re into the whole handmade/DIYism world, and there’s any kind of consumption-ideology element to your interest, it’s worth a listen. (Especially, now that I think about it, if you have an interest in unconsumption. More on that soon.)

CraftyPodcaster Sister Diane has many useful thoughts on the subject — starting with a bit of skepticism of the overly simple word “green.” She notes that many crafters have been talking about buying fewer new craft supplies this year, and crafting from their existing stashes instead. This actually might be a legitimate example of converting economic reality (saving money in tight times) into something productive: The creative challenge of using what’s on hand. That’s Sister Diane’s take, and she has a point. She’s starting with an inventory of all her craft stuff so she knows what she has.

On the other hand, later in the episode, Sister Diane raises the point that it might make sense to budget a bit for occasional new purchases from retailers you want to support. Anyway, I’m generally a fan of the concept of appreciating — or at least evaluating — what you already have, rather than always seeking something new (including the buying of new “green” products, etc., as a way to participate in concern about sustainability. So I like her rather balanced take on the subject.

Anyway, she also has some interesting examples. At the more extreme end: Futuregirl pledges to “Use What I Have” in 2009 — and in fact is attempting to spend $0 on craft supplies for the year:

We recently shuffled around our apartment and I moved my crafting area into the bedroom.  As I was moving and reorganizing everything, I realized I have TONS of craft supplies that I *really* want to use.  Thanks to my blog, I know exactly when some of them came into my life, too … ugh!  It breaks my heart that so many wonderful supplies have been sitting around ignored FOR YEARS.

This, coupled with the economic downturn, means it’s the perfect time for me to cut back on my crafty spending.  The more I thought about it, the more I started to think that maybe I should try to spend ZERO on craft supplies this year.

Is that going overboard? Well, I’m not sure.

CraftyPod also suggests craft-supply swaps — see the show notes for links — and points out RePlayGround: “We’re recycling fanatics and just love finding new uses for old items. Your scrap is the raw material for our next design project.” Looks like a really interesting little company/design studio. Apparently they do design projects (furniture, packaging, etc.) for cleints, as well as sell kits to anyone interested in doing their own upcycling. Also mentioned: Lee Meredith, also known for making things from other things.

Plus she talks about “the craft potential” tied up in “unfinished craft objects (UFOs).” Perhaps, Sister Diane suggests, it’s time to confront those UFO projects — and consider giving up and reclaiming the materials for something new. Or combine that with a swap gathering. I’m trying to think about parallel behavior for the less-crafty among us.

All in all a very thoughtful discussion, and another example of why,  when I talk to people about the book and they ask me what I’m keeping an eye on this year, I still say it’s this DIYism subculture.

In The New York Times Magazine: Goodwill

GOODWILL HUNTING:
Rebranding castoffs as couture — or at least as competitive with Wal-Mart.

This week in Consumed:

In the first eight months of 2008, sales at Goodwill stores in the United States and Canada increased by 7 percent over the same period last year. While that obviously runs counter to trends being reported by most retailers these days, it’s hard to say whether it counts as good news that more people are evidently buying secondhand goods. After all, many of us probably don’t think of Goodwill in terms of retail; we think of it in terms of charity.

But operators of some Goodwill stores have been making efforts to prod us to think a little differently, or perhaps more expansively, about the brand — and quite possibly the present economic gloom has primed us to be more open to that idea….

Read the column in the November 2, 2008, issue of The New York Times Magazine, or here.

Consumed archive is here, and FAQ is here. The Times’ Consumed RSS feed is here. Consumed Facebook page is here.

To make a point about Consumed that you think readers of The Times Magazine would be interested in: “Letters should be addressed to Letters to the Editor, Magazine, The New York Times, 620 Eighth Avenue, 6th Floor, New York, N.Y. 10018. The e-mail address is magazine@nytimes.com. All letters should include the writer’s name, address and daytime telephone number. We are unable to acknowledge or return unpublished letters. Letters may be edited for length and clarity.”

Eco extremes

“Their four sons often sleep huddled together to pool body heat.”

That’s from a Times Style section story, referring to a couple going to extremes to reduce their carbon footprint; it’s a trend story kind of thing, about hardcore eco-types.

Some people may view [them] as role models, pioneers who will lead us to a cleaner earth. Others may see them as colorful eccentrics, people with admirable intentions who have arrived at a way of life close to zealotry. To others they come across as “energy anorexics,” obsessing over personal carbon emissions to an unhealthy degree, the way crash dieters watch the bathroom scale.

To me this story made such people seem more or less like a freak show. I wonder about stories like this, if their net impact isn’t to make the whole notion of changing your lifestyle in “green” ways seem like a marginal, vaguely comical pursuit — something other people do.

Hey Space City: Give this guy your Styrofoam


I can’t believe I’d never heard of this guy until today, but Michael Salter is an artist who makes huge “Styrobots” (like 20-feet-plus tall), out of the hunks of styrofoam (I guess it’s different than Styrofoam?) that pack computers and the like.

Right now he’s taking donations in Houston (my home town!). I don’t know if Murketing actually has any readers in Houston or not, but maybe you know people there. If so, you should tell them about this. (Details about where to bring your packing foam, or arrange a pickup, here.) (At least, I’m pretty sure they’re still taking donations.)

If nothing else, they can check out whatever he ends up creating at the Rice Gallery, November 6. His show is called Too Much, and he’s also giving a talk on November 7; here’s the gallery’s calendar.

Find pix of Salter’s past creations on his site.

[Big thanks: Paola!]

Bag it

Interesting story in the WSJ today about trendy reusable shopping bags. These are “the nation’s fastest-growing fashion accessory, with sales this year up 76% to date over last year.”

“Used as they were intended,” the article says, “the totes can be an environmental boon, vastly reducing the number of disposable bags that do wind up in landfills.” In other words, the payoff isn’t in acquiring this particular object, it’s in changing your behavior accordingly. And that’s a lot tougher for people. “At present, many of the bags go unused — remaining stashed instead in consumers’ closets or in the trunks of their cars. Earlier this year, KPIX in San Francisco polled 500 of its television viewers and found that more than half — 58% — said they almost never take reusable cloth shopping bags to the grocery store,” the piece says.

This month at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, marketing professor Baba Shiv dedicated the first day of a weeklong seminar on green marketing to the “road blocks” facing reusable bags. He says it can take “years and decades” for consumers to change their shopping habits, and only when there’s a personal reward or an obvious taboo associated with the change: “Is it taboo yet to be carrying plastic bags? I don’t think so.”

Mr. Shiv also says that according to surveys done by his graduate students, many shoppers say they are less likely to carry a retailer’s branded reusable bag into a competing store. “What these bags are doing is increasing loyalty to the store,” he says.

‘Off consumption’ and possibly interesting

A friend of the site has asked that I tell you about Interesting New York, an event this coming Saturday, September 13. It lasts all day and as I understand it consists of a whole bunch of short presentations by a variety of people on a variety of subjects, selected for level of “interesting”ness. The supremely annoying site for this event is here; the less annoying rundown of presenters is here. A few other friends of Murketing turn out to be on that list — but enough about that.

The one that caught my attention is The Marketer Who Went Off Consumption. That would be Gaurav Mishra, who writes: “On March 23, I decided to go off consumption for a year to understand an increasingly important subculture whose members refuse to define their identity by buying things.” Here is Mishra’s blog — which turns out to be a book in progress. I was a little surprised to see the top post is about “How to market to consumers who define themselves by their anti-consumerism.”

So I suppose he’s the marketer who went off consumption … in order to become a better marketer? I’m not sure how I feel about that.

But … there’s some other interesting stuff in the blog, which I’ll have to examine more closely a little later,  and if you live in New York and want to pay $35 to hear from him and the other presenters at this event, I’d be curious to hear what you think.

Interesting New York
Saturday, September 13, 2008
10:00AM to 6:00PM.
The Katie Murphy Amphitheater at FIT
7th Avenue at 27th Street (Building D), New York City

Could you get by with 100 things?

Time Magazine reports on a guy who is trying to whittle down his possessions to a mere 100 things.

[Dave] Bruno keeps a running tally on his blog, guynameddave.com of what he has decided to hold on to and what he is preparing to sell or donate. For instance, as of early June, he was down to five dress shirts and one necktie but uncertain about parting with one of his three pairs of jeans. “Are two pairs of jeans enough?!,” he asked in a recent posting.

Time suggests this is a “grassroots movement,” although even Bruno seems surprised by that assertion. (“Now it’s a ‘grassroots movement,’ according to  Time. Wow!”) Even so, his 100 Thing Challenge is an interesting variation on the whole voluntary simplicity idea, and also on the probably more useful notion of simply thinking harder about material culture — about what really matters, and what really doesn’t.

[Thanks for the tip, Orli!]

Flickr Interlude

[Join and contribute to the Murketing Flickr group]

Thingdown

Time for another Fortnightly Weekend Thingdown. For whatever reason, I didn’t see that many Things that captured my attention the last two weeks. So it’s a short list.

Also, while I usually present the Things without comment, this time I need to provide a little context for the first one. It comes from the blog on the Fiji Green website, which is part of the bottled water company’s recent efforts to position itself as eco-friendly. More on that subject in this week’s Consumed, which I’ll post soon. But meanwhile, here’s the explanation of this item, from the aforementioned blog:

On April 26th, St. Vincent de Paul Society of San Francisco held the ”Discarded to Divine“ gala, an eco-friendly fashion show and charity fundraiser. Kim, our Northern California events coordinator, recruited designers Elaine O’Malley and Lisa Anne Fullerton to create a dress made from 100% recycled and reused materials, including FIJI Water packaging, for a model to wear throughout the evening.

More here, though the pictures and description are not as illuminating as they could be. I can’t really tell how the dress is put together and how the “packaging” is incorporated. I guess those are Fiji labels, right?

Anyway, Discarded To Divine involves designers making new garments out of old, discarded ones that are too messed up to be worn on their own anymore. The results are auctioned, raising money for the St. Vincent de Paul Society of San Francisco, an organization that helps the homeless and the needy.

So far as I can tell, this Fiji Green dress wasn’t part of the auction. Perusing these pictures of the event, it looks like maybe Fiji was a sponsor, or at least was giving out water, and this model just walked around at the gala and mingled. So was this essentially just a mobile ad for Fiji and its good intentions, inserting itself at an eco-friendly charity event? A merger of unconsumption and murketing? What do you think?

Okay, two more Things:

Handwrench, via Craftzine.


Hotman Trivet, via PopGadget.

Unconsumption as marketing tool

Missed this earlier, but Brandweek had an interesting quick overview of how e-waste “has gone from being a headache to a marketing tool.” Example:

Sony, which [recently] announced the availability of its lower cost Bravia M line of LCD TVs, has paired with Waste Management, Houston, for a series of events around the country. The “Take Back Recycling Program” invites consumers to leave behind their unwanted devices for no charge.

The mention of the new LCD TVs is relevant, because it sounds like most of these efforts are being positioned as add-ons to campaigns that are, inevitably, focused on getting you to trade up to something new (which is of course a big part of the e-waste problem to begin with). As Brandweek notes, there’s a good chance that concern about e-waste is only going to get more intense in the near future, as the switch to digital broadcasting consigns a huge number of cathode-ray TV sets to the dump.

So in a way this trend, if it’s real, seems more defensive than enlightened. And it all falls far short of manufacturers flat-out taking responsibility for their products in an end-to-end way that, say, Greenpeace encourages. But whatever. Maybe it’s a good start, maybe it gets the issue into more consumer minds, and it’s certainly better than nothing.

“Wow that’s a lot of Skittles”

I can’t resist highlighting this, via Craftzine: Someone posted on Craftster the dress she made for prom … out of Skittles wrappers. Apart from being a remarkable feat of DIYism and upcycling (and thus unconsumption), extra points for the use of branded trash.

Plus, for those of you who remember the Consumed column on donks: I wonder if she knows about the infamous Skittles donk?

What is it about Skittles, anyway?

The headline quote is one of the comments to the Getcrafty post.

Portraits in (former) trash


Another example of the previously mentioned uncomsumption variation, upcycling: artist S.A. Schimmel Gold. Her site explains:

Every little “tile” you see was once advertising ephemera, junk mail, a postcard or packaging. I save everything and upcycle this resource to create fine art.

Via Everydaytrash.com.