What on Earth Are We Doing?

2012 November 2012 Suzanne A. Marshall

By Suzanne A. Marshall from the November 2012 Edition

You may find my pondering strange. And I don’t really have an answer to my own question: what on earth are we doing? But the question of our planet supporting the needs and demands of an ever burgeoning population really does rattle around in my mind all the time. It happens every time I see food being wasted; something goes bad in my refrigerator; the weather systems destroy crops, ravage lands, set fires and wreak havoc with monsoon floods and hurricanes. I hear the news about 20 million starving Africans; projections on the exponential population growth of the worlds’ peoples and I think what on earth is going to happen, literally? There are various experts who believe that we have already passed a point of no return. For one thing the land cannot feed us all at the rate we are growing. This is particularly true of developing countries.

Still we thrust ourselves forward into ever more complex space exploration, scientific research, computerization, automation, consumerism, economics, production of goods and services that defy past imagination and we can only wonder in awe at the changes that have occurred since the industrial revolution to how we live our lives now. But I wonder sometimes if we are barreling down the highway of life unaware of a looming head-on collision. Latest official current world population estimate, for mid-year 2011, is estimated at 7,021,836,029.

As if things are not already complicated enough with natural disaster and climate change, let’s add a global economic structure to the mix and then we’ve really outdone ourselves. We are essentially one global market place now vying for trade and commerce all around the world. In North America, Europe and Asia (the so-called developed worlds) success is built on sales and consumption.

There is an ever increasing demand for business growth in order to meet increased sales targets which now determine success, the value of stock, monetary systems, product pricing, and support of invented markets designed to encourage more consumption and ultimately resulting in much more spending and waste.

Today I believe we are already getting a big taste of what can happen when a monetary system fails in artificial markets, lifestyle expectations become unrealistic and taken for granted and we simply live bigger than we can actually sustain. Thus we now see examples of bankrupt economies and a fragile globalized ‘system’ teetering on the brink of disaster.

Allow me to list a few mundane examples of creative life-style markets that have so many of us spending and consuming:

Fashion- You are still wearing that outfit from 3 years ago? Shame on you!! Not cool! What do you mean you don’t like the 8”inch stiletto platform shoes? (Besides that would make me about 6’ 5” tall, dammit.) Does no one in North America look at the aging demographic?

Fashion rules our closets and is practically dictated to us based on the designers and outlet stores. Let’s get real here. Most of the quality is crappy. Can we not make things of better quality, perhaps for a little more money, but good for a number of years? Have you ever noticed when the fashion guru’s run out of original ideas they rotate back 50 years to the 50’s, 60’s, and 70’s? Maybe the younger population doesn’t remember but I do and I think it’s hilarious. All marketed to make us buy, buy, buy.

Home fashions- You’ve had that sofa for how long? Those lime green walls are so five years ago! What, no stainless steel appliances? Your countertops aren’t granite? Your home isn’t an open concept? You don’t have hardwood floors? Etc. Can you imagine the mountains of cast-offs and garbage? We can only hope the materials reclamation business is booming.

So where do we suppose all this stuff goes when we’ve had our fling with it? One can only hope there is some recycling going on and the materials are being reinvented for other purposes. I have serious doubts considering the volume. And the truth is that most of us just don’t think about it

Electronics- Can you relate to the newest IPhone; the bygone years of flip phones and IPods (so passé); the newer IPads, electronic book readers, game gadgets, bigger and flatter HDTV screens, GPS (I liked maps, but then I am a woman and would actually use one!) all apparently designed to be obsolete about the time you buy them. Thousands of satellites are now circling the globe to allow us all those services and electronic toys and cars that almost drive themselves and park! It seems that everything is smaller, faster, and a lot more money. Hmmm, maybe it’s about status. Who knows? Even my small nephews and nieces are playing with hand me down IPads and I have yet to succumb to it. I won’t even go into what all of this is doing to socialization and how we relate to one another human to human these days. That’s the topic of another article for sure. Or, perhaps it will need a book.


I know many of our readers were around in the 60’s and 70’s as young fashion consumers. I remember Twiggy and these fashions. I didn’t sit down for years and my feet are still recovering!




Last week I watched a program called Nova on the science network. (Maybe that’s my problem, too much television). The focus was the subject of cyber hacking. A university professor who also happens to be a ‘brainiac’ hacker, in the interest of security, spends his life hacking into computer systems and he is really really good. His mission is to then take these found weaknesses in automated programs and find ways to make them safer and more secure. So he’s actually one of the good guys. He and his staff demonstrated how they could hack into the On-Star satellite phone system found as a feature in millions of newer model cars (an emergency feature), locate that car, take over its computer systems remotely, open the doors and start the engine for the potential benefit of thieves standing by to take over.


Note the references in this ad for the retro 1970’s home fashion. Just throw out all the stuff you have now because this is what is ‘in’. (At least for this season)




With so much of the world going digital and computerized, I find it frightening. Think about banking for example. I happen to know a senior employee of the Royal Bank of Canada who has a department that is dedicated to warding off hackers, devious worm programs and malware. I now make a hard copy of my bank statement every month. Who knows when you might go to the ATM or online and find nothing there! OK, I know that sounds paranoid but think about it. The world financial systems are all automated. The stock exchange and trading networks, government processes, income tax files, and personal data on each and every one of us is all computerized.

Is it just me who feels that a huge amount of control in my life has been lost to the convenience of internet banking and bill paying and on-line shopping? It’s a great convenience admittedly, but we’d best pray that they keep all of that data safe. Now we are being ‘spammed’ with crap coming in from who knows where, our buying habits are being tracked and it seems we can’t hide anywhere. For example the Facebook upgrades will now show your ‘friends’ where you are via satellite mapping. Often these ‘enhancements’ are added without notification. I post very little on Facebook and reluctantly set up an account so I could follow the lives of my children and families who live far away. As I was catching up a few days ago a map popped up and showed where I had been for Canadian Thanksgiving the day before. Yikes!! I highly recommend checking your security settings often.

A person could go crazy trying to understand all of the cumulative events and circumstances taking place around the globe. With so much information being tossed out into the world via media, internet, and communication portals is it any wonder that some of us feel inundated, helpless and downright overwhelmed? Some may even experience a type of guilt because we have been born in a place of plenty, grown up with the best of everything and never been hungry. It seems too big to be contained in comprehensive thought. So I find myself stepping back from it and trying to be mindful of the little things I can be doing more efficiently. If you set parameters around your life, a kind of visual box that we live in, there are small things we can all do to make a difference and feel a bit better. Mindful consumption instead of waste; live smaller not bigger; stop believing things that are new are better, fix the old one; recycle everything including furniture and clothes, rest assured someone could use them, perhaps your family or your neighbors.

To be honest, I believe the bottom line for me is that I really am older and wiser. It seems as we age and then retire, we actually have more time for perspective thought. Our lives in North America seem to be consumed by growing up, getting to school, college education, having families and accumulating all kinds of ‘stuff’ along the way. I call it the treadmill of life. We pack our attics, garages and basements full of collected goodies that for many of us will end up in garage sales as decades later,we try to downsize for retirement. You go through all these ‘things’ and often say to yourself or friends, what was I thinking? Why did we buy this? It’s easy to see how we’ve all become part of the ‘system’ almost without being aware of it.

Now,I actually find myself, going into stores and coming out with nothing. Either I didn’t see what I wanted or I realized I just didn’t need it. We have got to find a way to slow the world down so to speak and live better. What’s more we need to make more room for each other, tolerate differences and somehow find a way to help each other make the best of the gift of life that we have all been given on this earth. It seems to me that there must be a way to make the collective voice ring out and determine what it is that we want and stop being finessed into a life of consumption that somehow we didn’t realize we were caught up in. You know, take back some control. The very least we can do is not give up. As I said in the beginning I don’t have the answers but at least I’m thinking about it.


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