Tag Archive: Consumerism


Facebook & Status Anxiety

AMDG

This is a scheduled blog – posted automatically – I’m on a silent retreat at the moment so will only be able to moderate or reply to comments when I finish (14th)

Thumbs down.It was reported last week that Facebook spreads unhappiness (examples here and here).  Research in Michigan, US,  suggested using the site makes people less satisfied with their lives. This resonates with other research that claims Facebook usage increases feelings of isolation, jealousy and depression. It is not clear whether this is a classic case of confusing correlation with causation… i.e. it is not facebook that causes isolation but rather those who feel isolated who are more likely to spend more time on facebook. However let’s remember the genesis of facebook, dreamed up in the dorms of Harvard, a high-pressure tank of adolescent insecurity, competitiveness and astronomical expectations. This was portrayed warts and all in the film The Social Network – and perhaps explains why  the architecture of Facebook Pages are often carefully designed to suggest a great and exciting life and therefore can be misleading.

status anxietyCould it be that Facebook is hyper-charging ‘status anxiety’. This idea came from a fascinating book of the same title by (atheist) philosopher Alain de Botton. Most unhappiness comes from this status anxiety and explains why the rich are often unhappier than those with much more modest lifestyles. Because we are always comparing ourselves to those who are one step above us on the wealth ladder. Rather than being satisfied with what we have, we become anxious because we don’t have as nice a car, as big a house etc as this or that friend. You can see how that works on facebook – X’s status updates/ photos indicate they are having a more exciting life than me. Look at his photo in a club surrounded by those beautiful girls whilst I am stuck at home (probably doing something much more interesting or fulfilling). Why has she got twice as many friends as me. So if you want to be happy – don’t fall into the trap of Facebook Status Anxiety!

By the way if you have read this through my facebook link and think it’s a bit hypocritical – my blog posts go onto facebook and twitter automatically. My policy with facebook is to ‘raid’ every week – get in and get out as quickly as I can – and do my business before I get sucked in…(honest) !!

Foodbanks – Hope & Scandal

AMDG

This is a scheduled blog – posted automatically – I’m on a silent retreat at the moment so will only be able to moderate or reply to comments at the end of next week 

 1376142163Here in Manchester – we are about to open the first student-run foodbank in the country.  We have been working with the Trussel Trust (TTT), a Christian charity who currently support the biggest network of foodbanks in the country.  The alarming rate of growth of foodbanks is a direct response to two conflicting trends in British life.  The growth of ‘food poverty’ : as globally food prices rise, energy prices rise, but locally wages stay still or decrease, those with a basic income are finding it harder and harder to put food on the table.  The second trend is the cutting of benefits, and the dismantling of a bloated welfare state.  With pressure on local agencies to withhold benefits for the slightest misdemeanour, those accustomed to relying on this are finding themselves in emergency situations, where they may have to wait a few weeks before any income resumes.   So foodbanks are popping up all over the place, often but not exclusively in churches – to provide short-term emergency assistance. 
Picture1The TT model that we are following,  provides a referral service, where those in crisis can be referred to us for food parcels by a variety of front-line agencies.  People don’t just walk-in off the streets, it is not a drop-in centre they must be referred with vouchers.  These are also limited to three per six months, so it is not creating dependency but rather providing an emergency – short term crisis service.  The vouchers also ensure that a sophisticated monitoring process can go on to find out the causes of these crises, and spot any patterns emerging.  It was interesting to see that TTT was able to identify a spike in demand during the summer holidays as free-school-dinners were not available to struggling families.  Present at yesterdays training day – here at the chaplaincy – were representatives from the council, the huge local hospital, schools, churches, sure-start centres,  job-centers, charities etc.  It was a an impressive kaleidoscope of civil society,  the ill-fated ‘Big-Society’.

download (2)The scandal of food-poverty in such a wealthy society – for me points more towards the breakdown of the extended family rather than free-market politics.  Like many post-industrial societies we are in a much-needed reform of the welfare state, but when the family is not there to pick up the pieces – more strain is put on civil-society as big-government withdraws.  However dirty politics also reared its head yesterday.  It turns out that the job-centres, who are enthusiastic referrers to food banks, at times verging on the irresponsible, using us an excuse to meet quotas, cut corners.  The job centres refuse to use the voucher scheme as sanctioned by TTT.  Why – because much of this food poverty is hidden – but the monitoring system TTT uses allows for the identification of the cause of the crisis and this is an embarrassment for the Dept of Work and Pensions (DWP).  On the voucher it is indicated why someone is in crisis, e.g sickness, benefit delays, domestic violence, debt etc.   It seems that although there was an agreement with TTT and DWP back in 2011, DWP have acted unilaterally and changed it – refusing to use TTT’s vouchers.  It may be that the TTT network is so extensive and successful now, but also they are so good at data gathering that this is embarrassing the government.  They are happy to dump people on the TTT, but not happy for statistics to get out about how the changes are effecting people – now that is Scandalous!

The headquarters of eBay in San Jose, Californ...

The headquarters of eBay in San Jose, California. Photographed on August 5, 2006 by user Coolcaesar. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I was fascinated to read that Ebay has recently banned the selling of spells, curses, hexes, magic, prayers, potions and healing sessions from its website.  Ebay – the virtual marketplace – is a capitalists dream.  Never has there been a market place with so many dimensions, with millions of items for sale worldwide.  The range of ‘ items are’grouped into more than 40,000 main and sub-categories, and cover everything for instance, a finger painting in real chocolate pudding by two-year-old Corbin, who is hoping to raise enough pocket money to visit Disney’s Magic Kingdom or a nifty black Ferrari 360 (starting at $150,000). Never before has there been a market with such abundant dimensions.  But it seems that even the free market has limits!

I think it is foolish to dismiss the paranormal, but also wise to protect the vulnerable from crass exploitation. There is a fine line between this type of exploitation and that of more reputable mainstream religions.  A slightly alarming development in Christianity over recent years has been the rise of the ‘Gospel of Prosperity’ mainly in Pentecostalist circles.  Something that impresses me about Pentecostalism is its ability to help people who are struggling ‘sort their lives out’ particularly in a poor urban context, and the creative ways many Pentecostalists put their faith into practical action and help transform communities and add to the common good. However what is a distortion of the Gospel is this idea that God will bless you financially if you donate generously to the pastor. Apart from obviously being open to corruption, it is this fusion of personal empowerment / self help which I think ultimately leads to a consumerist narcissism as opposed to the radical self-giving which is at the climax of the Gospels, and Jesus’s stress on servant leadership.  This distortion of Christianity is proving very popular in Asia, especially in South Korea which now has the biggest ‘church’ in the world in Seoul.

Interestingly eBay’s simple online system relies to an extent on the fact that most people are basically honest. But as the market grows in value, it inevitably attracts more rogues.  The first line of defence in online trading is eBay’s feedback profile, which is in effect the online reputation of both buyers and sellers. When any transaction is completed, both buyers and sellers are invited to rate how successful it has been, and leave a review. These reviews can be read by all users.  Many of the traders on eBay have come to value their reputations greatly, and those with enough positive-feedback scores are allowed to participate in buyer-protection schemes, which offer refunds. As far as religion goes – reputations are forged or destroyed at a much slower rate, over thousands of years.

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