In recent developments of the global economy, there is one driving factor that stands out: consumerism. This concept has not only established a death grip on markets worldwide but has also extended its roots into virtually every aspect of daily life. As engineers, consumerism has become a major player in the profession; whether this intrusion is an unwelcome one is something that is very controversial. One thing that is certain is that consumerism has brought about major changes in the engineering industry and will continue to do so for many years to come.
Consumerism is the practice of selling ever-increasing amounts of goods, often characterized more by a display of status than any real necessity or functionality to the buyer. There is no concrete origin for the rise of consumerism, but many point to the rapid growth of the middle class in the 18th century as a possible starting point. The idea of a system of mass production to promote the consumer markets came to life in the Industrial Revolution with people such as Henry Ford. This later evolved into today’s culture of conspicuous consumption and emphasis on materialistic status.
The engineering profession has become deeply affected by consumerism in recent years. One of the areas that we may encounter on a regular basis is cost cutting. This idea in of itself is not a fully detrimental one, but the methods that many corporations attempt to achieve it lead to a lackluster quality in products. This is often due to financial constraints on the engineering teams tasked with the manufacturing of these products. Some might say that the engineering profession has been misled by the dubious glories of consumerism. Instead of pursuing an optimal design, financial gain and consumer pressure often take precedence and become the defining factors in a project.
On September 11, Apple revealed their newest addition to the iPhone family. With only select major upgrades, such as the triple camera setup, over the previous model, one might wonder if this was merely a lackluster effort to please those who expect a new model released annually. This was but the latest in a series of product by Apple that have demonstrated a decline in the engineering prowess of the company. Where once Apple stood at the forefront of innovation, it’s now too concentrated on making profit to achieve any real breakthroughs anymore.
In a similar fashion, the food industry has been excessively impacted by the idea of consumerism. With recent developments in technology, genetic manipulations and chemically induced growth have become commonplace. Corporations neglect to consider the side effects of such methods in favour of the cheap and drastic increase in production, which is often followed by an increase in profit. As a result, the people who have to suffer the consequences of these actions are the consumers themselves.
Professional integrity is an important part of the engineering industry. However, the current state of affairs in the global market will often put pressure on us to prioritize profit over anything else. It will be up to ourselves to decide whether to heed our inner compass or follow the lures of consumerism.