Discard after use: our disposable world

I want something that’s going to linger and stay with me and give me something to think about and chew over. That’s the real objective here; something that doesn’t feel disposable.

Mark Frost, novelist and screenwriter

It isn’t necessarily new to the American psyche, but our nation’s complete slide into consumption and convenience is unmistakable. We all know that our daily pace is frenetic and the desire to satisfy needs is equally so. We often look for the quickest, easiest way to achieve an objective in order to move on to the next thing. Companies in the fast-and-easy business are ever eager to capitalize on our miles-per-second lifestyles and more than happy to sell us what might get us there: disposable razors, diapers, contact lenses, to-go containers, cleaning wipes. We use, then pitch, then move on to the next. Without thinking twice. As busy, working individuals with busy kids, we do this when necessary as means to the quickest way from A to B and are momentarily relieved to have options to help us.

But there is a widespread acceptance of applying the idea of disposable as superior in areas beyond products. Buildings seem to come down and go up at an unbelievable rate, particularly here in the U.S. A McDonald’s restaurant, for example, can be demolished and rebuilt in thirty days. No problem. And while it might not always be most cost effective to maintain certain buildings or landmarks, (McDonalds’s aside) what are we sacrificing to destroy them? Often, it’s at the expense of something historical, beautiful – a creation that might continue to teach us something. The dollar should not always be the most predominant factor, but we know that it surely continues to grease the gears of industry.

We notice it as well in the shifting job market. As companies continue to strive to drive up profits, positions and people tend to become inessential. Whereas there was once loyalty and longevity between a company and its employees, it feels now as if everyone is replaceable. Soft and specialized skills are outsourced and subcontracted while job titles have morphed so drastically that a person must assume the expert-of-all role at the office by taking on the duties of what used to require whole teams. With the current rate of advances in technology, we well know that this trend is not going to reverse – it’s only going to grow. People have become disposable in the sense that they are now seen less as producers and more as consumers with industry and economy merging to suit their burgeoning needs. To maintain the profit margin, people have become dispensable.

This is also obvious in virtual, electronic spaces where news, gossip and the fickle mood of voyeurs latch onto some strange sense of entitlement. Contributors readily rip people and ideas to shreds – foregoing loyalty in favor of a kind of zeitgeist that clings to little other than the swell of public opinion. With anonymity comes a bold, new kind of courage. Bullies voice knee-jerk reactions instead of engaging in the kind of face-to-face dialogue that used to lead to productive discourse. It would seem loyalties to friends, family and institutions are now also disposable in one click of the mouse.

But as we think about the pervasiveness of a collective mentality wherein disposable is not the exception but the rule, we pause to reconsider how what we do in the name of convenience supports an ideology that disposable is somehow better. That we often sacrifice quality or care in the interest of speed, money, poor planning.

The planet can only absorb so much of what we so easily throw away. As a society, we shouldn’t succumb to the philosophy that people are expendable. When we take the time to think it over, we agree with Frost. And we would argue that what most are really looking for out of life and interactions with others are the things that linger. The things that last. Maybe even the things that stay.

Siblings Anne and Joe are co-founders of Susan Lane Foundation, a nonprofit organization designed to broaden literary opportunities in Northeast Michigan. The Twin Compass appears here in The Alpena News the last Thursday of every month.