In the United States, a very strange thing happens at the end of November. Two huge “holidays” happen. There is Thanksgiving and Black Friday. According to the American story, Thanksgiving is supposed to be about family time, giving thanks, and sharing the love. And Black Friday seemingly standing for the opposite.
These key times in the calendar aren’t actually holidays. Especially if you’re working in the service industry for companies like Amazon. Overtime is essential, and it’s not uncommon to smash out 12 to 16 hour days.
Black Friday is a consumption day of sales and the beginning of the American tradition of the “holidays”. The term appeared in the 1960s. When Philadelphia police started to complain about the post-Thanksgiving shopping rush. Since then, the day after Thanksgiving has spiralled into a day of people just going absolutely crazy.
Stores slash their prices on key items like televisions and toys to lure customers into their stores. And, people just go nuts for it. The idea is that once people are in their stores, customers not only get the sale of a lifetime on a television that they waited hours in line to get. They also fill their carts with toys and whatever random crap they think they need.
In-person shopping does seem to be dropping though, so there are few nutters waiting outside in the cold. Instead, they are now frantically swiping, clicking and tapping online from the comfort of their couch to get their bargains. Most dominantly on “Cyber Monday”, which is the second wave of sales and a second episode to Black Friday.
People are buying stuff at a mad rate. And it’s only going to get more insane as companies are spreading the Black Friday deals over several days, and even weeks after the big event. This brings the numbers up, with a consistent rise in spend and participation. What’s so bad about this though? Everyone now has the chance to get their hands on the latest gizmos and gadgets, at lower prices.
Many of the items pushed during these sales are luxury goods. They’re pushing consumerism, whether the need is there or not. This mindset has serious consequences for our society, and the environment we’re playing around with.
Packaging and shipping use rates sour during these weeks. With millions of purchases over a short time, this means more packaging emissions at every level. Not just the use of plastics and boxes, but the fuel burnt through to get the packages delivered. Trucks and vans dominate the roads and heavily contribute to greenhouse gas emissions.
With Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Thanksgiving, and the entire holiday season out of the way, there now comes the dreaded waste. Cheap goods wear out quickly or thrown away after a few uses. Or the surprise new tv that’s an inch bigger than the current one needs to go somewhere, and the old one will most likely be thrown away.
It’s dangerous territory for our planet, and for the workers involved. It also highlights problems in our society. Needless consumption is the result of a capitalist desire for growth. People in most cases aren’t valued as much on their caring nature, their creativity, or the strength of their community. It’s the stuff they consume.
Desires for useless objects are planted like a seed in our heads. We’re made to believe that if we buy certain products, we’ll be better, more admirable, and more successful. And is it cool to shop at places like Amazon? Where it appears that in some cases workers are given pretty sinister working conditions.
Offering goods for lower prices fills a bucket of people who probably couldn’t afford the items in usual circumstances. In some ways, it may appear that adverts are targeted to this segment of the population, and take advantage of their situation. And it’s not really to help them. It’s just a few days where companies can sell more stuff to make a profit at the expense of our emotions and the environment.
Escaping Black Friday is possible. As it’s a symptom of the sickness we’re all vulnerable to. We don’t need to buy that much. If we do, we can look a little further into the practices of the companies we buy from and how they’re dealing with environmental issues. We can repair and maintain what we do have. These short term mindset changes can make a world of difference.
We’re offered a red pill in life. And we should take it. Consume less, learn more and use the holidays as a time to reflect, care and connect.