The mass consumption of non-necessary items is highlighted by Apple’s release of two iPhones aimed at encompassing the global market; yet modern companies’ fascination with having global reach has detrimental effects both for small businesses and for the consumer. While local businesses face bankruptcy, consumers are in blind servitude to multinational companies offering ever more appealing products – a situation which has been evolving since the early modern era, emerging from the immoral practices of the European colonists.
There are many examples of inter-continental trade routes before European colonisation – the Chinese silk industry created wide consumer demand as early as the Han Dynasty (206BC – 220AD), and some argue that the Knights Templar was the first multinational business organisation, founded in 1120. Indeed, archaic globalization saw a cosmopolitan culture grow around Ancient Greece from 323 BC, and Frank even suggests that a form of globalization existed around 3000BC. However, Friedman’s identification of three periods of globalisation supports the idea that the emergence of the global market can be traced from Columbus’ voyage in 1492. Indeed, a product can only be considered global when available across the world, thus one should trace the emergence of the global product from global recognition of the Americas. While there is significant evidence of pre-Columbian travel to the Americas, it was the exploratory voyages during the Age of Discovery that saw American produce enter Europe. The Columbian Exchange following Columbus voyage effectively created the first global product.
Tobacco, cacao, and peanuts were first on the global market, and it was cuttings of sugarcane received by Columbus from his lover in the Canary Islands that were first to reach the Americas. It is often overlooked by modern consumers, however, that products such as sugar became the backbone of the development of a global market fuelled by the subjugation of overseas labourers. Trocki states that ‘mass consumption of essential non-necessities is one of the first hallmarks of the modern, industrial-age market’; indeed, by the nineteenth century, sugar was considered a necessity in Europe, driving the colonization of tropical islands, where the European capitalists’ desire for profit led them to find sugarcane plantations an excellent workplace for African slaves – who also found themselves a product on the market.
I have been told to portray an ‘interesting historical perspective of how we have got to be so product conscious today’, but rather than being product conscious, while it is true that we are consuming more than ever, the evolution of global trade has made us blind to what we are purchasing. In the centuries following the Age of Discovery, cunning profit-making tactics were employed, from the British East India Company getting China hooked on opium to fuel the British tea addiction to Coca-Cola’s use of cocaine in its product to fuel sales. Yet due to global narcotic prohibition and new technologies, companies developed sneakier marketing techniques, resulting in consumer ignorance to manipulation. While the Chinese coolie working in South East Asia was entirely aware of his opium addiction and the profits being made from him, welcoming this as a method of coping with the harsh realities of jungle labour, the twentieth century consumer was blissfully unaware of subliminal advertising. Now, the modern consumer is so bombarded with advertising that it is almost impossible to escape, resulting in active acceptance of mind manipulation. Take a look at many UK citizens, spurred on by the excitement of the X-Factor, happily spending fifteen minutes per hour soaking up endless repetitions of product ‘benefits’ – Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four ring any bells?
I urge friends to shop locally, reminding them of the ever-shrinking sizes of mass-produced food items which are becoming ever-more costly, but for sake of convenience, they chose Tesco to save a ten minute walk to the grocer’s, which sells undoubtedly better quality goods for far less. As well as creating laziness among consumers and a market offering poorer quality goods, the emergence of the global product has led to a decline in demand for locally produced items, putting small businesses out of work.
As for Apple’s new releases, while I don’t see the need for such complex and often unnecessary technology, at least it is probably the best phone on the market. Yet smartphones have downfalls, which, when marketed globally, create social problems. I frequently end up talking to myself when my girlfriends, mid-conversation, view a Facebook notification, and rather than making conversation, people seem to prefer playing games or listening to music. These problems may seem trivial, but remind us of the damaging impact that global products are having not only on individual consumers and local economies, but now on communication.