I’ve been teaching brand management for an online learning course this past week and was once again confronted with the term marketers use to refer to their customers: Consumers. I’ve always been apprehensive about this term because to me, it reduces human beings to little more than bodies with mouths for faces or finger-faced heads, “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!”
When I did my post graduate marketing diploma I would cringe every time I read the word Consumer because something in the heart of me wanted to vehemently protest the idea that a human being, in all her miraculous complexity can be bandied with a label that implies her base function is consumption – not to actualise, to consume. Not even survive, but consume. The idea that God created human beings for them to consume things is counter-intuitive and dissonant at the least. And yet the word Consumer to me is like a self-damning prophecy. One need only look at nature, what with climate change and global warming being what it is. There is a reason why TB was called Consumption, because the disease would literally waste its victim away ’til there was nothing left, ’til he was like a dead husk of what once was.
Of course you would be ignorant to deny that we live in a Consumer culture. With technology spearheading a move toward quick, mindless and pervasive consumption, it’s like people are becoming walking husks. With everyone consuming at breakneck speed and with their attentions spans getting shorter, the truly brilliant will eat their veggies before they eat their ice cream.
This is a concept I gleaned while listening to an audiobook by John C. Maxwell while driving on Voortrekker. It means putting off instant gratification so that you can relish the actual process of what it is that you do. When my old band Brother & Brother recorded and released our first single to radio in 2012, we were told that we needed to follow it up with the next track soon after. The production of the song cost us an arm and a leg (of money we will never get our return on) and then being students (with no money to speak of), we were expected to record the follow up immediately.
Consumers are in search of their newest ‘hit’ and the prevailing rhetoric is that you must shoot it up their mainline. As true as that is, I vouch for honouring the process above all and giving it due diligence. Nevermind what so and so is doing to win followers, you do you, boo.
Nowadays when I read non-fiction, it takes me quite a long time to get through each one. Not for lack of an attention span, but because I read for retention. When I’m done with a really informative book, it ends up looking like a doodle artwork with all of my notes, underlining and marginalia (this is when you write your own ideas, thoughts and opinions in the margins of the book) – for this reason I could probably never borrow a book to a friend (however, I forecast that those who read ferociously will become future pioneers, purely because it appears it’s becoming a novel skill in today’s vacuous culture). This is also why I prefer to read hard copy books (not e-books) because even though I can get stuff for free online, that doesn’t mean I’ll read it.
When you get stuff at no cost, I guarantee that you won’t appreciate it. My accountant friend says life is all about cost – everything worth its weight in gold will cost you in some way. I’d rather buy the damn thing and know that I’ll read it, then have it park up hard drive space somewhere. My dad taught me a lesson I’ll never forget. He said, “Son, if you want to own a dog, make sure you buy it. You never take care of a dog that someone gave to you for free.” How often do you see, mangy, starved animals strolling about communities where no one paid to have them? And how telling is that of Consumer culture?
Current trends have changed the landscape for everyone wanting to make a dent in the barrage of Consumer content flooding newsfeeds and Whatsapp screens the world over. When I speak to aspirant artists or entrepreneurs I now tell them that making an impact is less about what you actually do, and more about the method you employ to break through the wall of scrolling fingers and beady eyes. And this is a reality I too have had to accept and get on with. Up to about five years ago, you could still put a well thought out piece of writing or video or piece of audio up on Facebook and expect massive feedback from your audience – now it’s just another brick in the wall. Either Consumers take to your content in a big way or you MUST create a niche market out of thin air and try your best to engage the latter in meaningful, human ways.
This is a balance I recommend we each get down to a fine art. Technology provides a lot of agency and it is essential to keep abreast of. In as much as I advocate for compelling narrative in order to engage at least a niche market, I also advocate the creation of perennial work, work that will last far beyond my own generation. I’m less concerned about trend hopping (does anyone remember dubstep – how long did that last?) than I am about creating richly, textured work that will last way after I’m gone (or work that will only see a return way down the line). I’m eating my veggies, the ice cream can wait.
When I started this blog back in 2011, I was told to drop writing because people don’t read anymore. Well, for those who do, I thank you.
(PS Ryan Holiday has a book on creating perennial work called The Perennial Seller that I really wanna get my hands on, and you should too.)
What kind of veggies are you eating at the moment?