Old habits in a new normal
The world is picking up its pieces, wanting to go back outside into the “new normality”. Restaurants, bars, cinemas and offices waiting to be opened, money wishing to be spent and the magic of box of desire raging for attention. The impact of slashed marketing spends is seen in the stale advertisements from months ago still hanging everywhere, hungry for attention. The newspapers complain that various arms of the economy are suffering, painting pictures of businessmen, poor waiters, cinema workers and sportsmen all in the same stroke. We should be sad for them, yes, but we should also be sad for ourselves for letting an economy of over-consumption take control of our lives.
A survey by the management consultancy McKinsey also revealed that between 20 and 30 percent of the Chinese will continue to be cautious about spending money and want to consume either a little less or, in some cases, even much less. “The lockdown gave consumers a lot of time to think about what is important to them,” says Mark Tanner, managing director of Shanghai-based research and marketing consultancy China Skinny. “As consumers spend more time at home, they also have more time and reasons to sort things they don't think they need.”
With the economy opening up again, familiar messaging is inviting us to reach for our wallets again. The temptation of walking along a high street and checking restaurant menus and the urge to roam around in a mall in the haze of consumption. The lockdown for a privileged few showed that the world around us is built around the heartbeat of desire and surplus. This is not the case for a majority of people who have to live with insecurity always standing behind their economic prospects. When we go back to our earlier consumption habits we bring back a broken system without subjecting it to any scrutiny.
Glorifying supermarket workers as heroes while their replacement computer tills beep in the background is not just hypocritical but myopic. The erosion of employee rights have become profuse in the last years: from your Amazon worker to your pizza delivery person, they live on scraps of generosity an algorithm presents them. Short term contracts, no benefits or social security and no possibility to work from home or even buy a home, this is an underclass that relegates itself into the shadows of a modern Western city. The doctors and the healthcare workers? I'll leave that to your imagination. Our imaginary fears are their daily reality. These groups of workers are still working for money, not for any greater altruism we might fantasize in.
It is hard to see the faces and people behind these words, the ones who make the phone screens, dig and refine the silicon and cobalt below, the people who make the roads and buildings. What we all are untied is by our trips to the supermarket and the things we wish to consume. Our religions are Amazon, Spotify, Instagram and fucking Donald Trump. The marketing propaganda will start to flex its muscle again, before we know it we are crammed in trains and pushed around to workplaces the invisible fear now replaced by the ones we create and tame. Buying has been individualized, we only care about ourselves and perhaps the “environment”. Like all important words, it assumes an invisible mass: democracy, freedom, virus, work. It is a game we play, the act of tossing coins and getting what we want.
While walking back into the shopping streets I ask myself this. What is this? Why is this being told to me? Did I want this before I saw this? Removing the brand labels, proprietary colors and dismantling the words and symbols to see what exists behind the fog of desire. This is an important way to vote for change. The “new normal” should not be another wasted opportunity, we are the ones in power now.