I’m officially tired of being called a consumer. As a human being, I consume, yes, but that does not make me less than what I am, and I resent the generalization that I’m merely a creature that devours products and foods like a furnace devours coal, or an amoeba devours whatever it devours.
We can do better than use such a demeaning term.
To be fair, consumer is nothing more than a word with a meaning attached to it. Here’s the latest from the Oxford Dictionary:
consumer – kənˈsoōmər – noun: a person who purchases goods and services for personal use: [as adj. ] consumer demand. • a person or thing that eats or uses something: e.g. “Scandinavians are the largest consumers of rye.”
By the strictest definition, I’m a consumer because I purchase goods and services, and I’m a consumer because I eat and use products (food, soap, toothpaste, gasoline, etc.).
What I’m objecting to is the generalization of me as a human being as merely a consumer, and the implication that I’m nothing more than a thing that eats or uses something.
Would you say, “my dog is a consumer?” No. Yet, a dog, any pet, is also a thing that eats and uses something. No, we reserve the demeaning term consumer for ourselves and avoid using it on our pets.
Even our cars consume fuel to transport us to the grocery store, school, work, shopping. Somehow we manage not to insult our cars by calling them ‘consumers.’ With gasoline at $4.50 a gallon, maybe we can find a different word to describe our cars (and SUV’s).
Why is being a consumer of goods, services, food, demeaning?
First, it generalizes. While it’s necessary to be non-specific at times, it also classifies everyone into a category from which we may never emerge. I’m human. I’m a human being. I think, therefore, I am.
Yes, I consume but that is not my purpose in life. An amoeba must consume to survive, but it’s only purpose in life is to survive, therefore it must consume.
There are not many literary classics penned by amoebas. Some television shows, perhaps.
Second, being ascribed to a definition that’s also used to describe a general function of life existence doesn’t say much for the value of that life. While I don’t want to put humanity too far up on a pedestal, there’s enough of the good kind of humanity to say, “let’s look for a different term than consumer to describe what we are.”
We are far more than mere consumers or users. Sufficiently more that we should be able to use a term that we all understand, but that, when we think about it, diminishes humanity to insect level.
Locusts consume crops. They’re bad for crops and farmers, yet calling both consumers just seems wrong.
Finally, despite the rich variety and subtlety of the English language, we often diminish ourselves by over use of simple category branding; towel heads, blue state, red state, frogs (for French), and the like.
It’s time to be more descriptive and specific in our terminology, and less general just because it’s easy.
‘I think, therefore, I am‘ is much better than ‘I consume, therefore, I am a consumer.’