When was the last time an advertisement caught your attention and compelled you to purchase a service or product you did not previously desire? Finding it hard to connect your last shopping spree with a billboard you drove by? Well, it’s not the least bit surprising. Like most people, you’re quietly earning, buying and consuming the many products and services you think you need and the process of subliminal persuasion is so unbelievably seamless, that you don’t realize how paid communications in the market place are constantly working to alter your choices, your purchasing pattern and ultimately your behavior.

Fellow drone, welcome to the world of progressively aimless consumption.

In this world, we want more sauce in our burgers, more action in our films, more talk time on our cell phones, more air miles, more mileage, more pop corn, more fun, more vacations, more breaks, more cars, bikes, bridges and roads, more clothes, better shoes, brighter teeth, baby skin – the list is endless and I’m already short of breath.

Consumerism is no new animal though. Just a little over a thousand miles west of Pakistan, the closest example of thriving consumption is Dubai where conversations may start anywhere but somehow they invariably end at the price tag of a car or the height of the world’s tallest building.

The product offering in Pakistan may not be vast enough to really grip the public into a never ending consumption cycle just yet, but the signs of a beginning are more than apparent. New shopping high rises are soaring up to the sky across the landscape and they’re bustling with consumers, strangely unaffected by the burden of our collective financial debt as a nation. Perhaps the bustling has something to do with the surplus of window shoppers and walkers searching for an entertaining, air conditioned track.

Regardless, products and suitable avenues for promotion are multiplying to serve Pakistan’s meagre elite with substantive digits in their bank accounts. The morning paper, the cricket matches on television, the fm station in your car, the magazine at lunch break, the streamers and billboards across the city, constant notifications through social media on your cell phone, the evening news and the soap operas – these are all suitable vehicles for advertisements, each one incessantly trying to capture a shred of your imagination. Considering this, can we blame ourselves for not having any clarity or focus in such a cluttered information age? I don’t think so.

In the UK, an average person who steps out of the house is exposed to 3000 paid promotional messages in a day. A place of worship, take a mosque for instance, will invite Muslims to pray only five times in a day. Similarly, in your daily conversations, short of your friends, significant other or parents persuading you to take a decision regarding your career, life or something as trivial as recreation, there aren’t so many voices trying to persuade you into doing something. And thus, buyable products and services dominate the airwaves and remain paramount in our head space. Consequently, the advertisements that constantly promote these products outpace the fading memory of our daily conversations. We remember the terrible vegetable oil ad we saw on TV because it appeared umpteen times through umpteen adaptations on umpteen channels and we forget the conversations we had otherwise.

So what’s the big fuss about if a few shrewd people are exploiting our insatiable nature to sell us goods and services we don’t necessarily need? If I’m itching to get an upgrade on a perfectly sound car I drive and if I have the means to afford that upgrade, then why should anybody care at all? Here’s where we often and rather conveniently forget that everything we consume comes from somewhere not very far – ores, water, oil and minerals hiding under the ground beneath our feet and all that we produce and manufacture on top of it. Cars don’t glide from the sky with a weather proof parachute. They’re manufactured in factories that require plastics, metals, glass and a host of others raw materials that are derived from our limited, shrinking planet.

Apportioning dwindling resources so that we are able to sustain life on earth, that is the challenge. Today, capitalism is an established world order we cannot oust, replace or suppress. But if we care enough about our children, we ought to embrace it on our own terms.

It’s not in our nature to be content with what we have. Accepted. But think about this another way: in a world where starvation claims countless lives, gluttony really isn’t just one of the seven sins – it’s a heartless crime.

In middle income Pakistan, aspirations to move up the consumer ladder include transitions from motorbikes to cars and from CRT screens to LCD panels. From an economic point of view, if one discourages this consumption pattern, in the aforementioned products and other comparable goods, that will mean abridged production, downsizing, increased unemployment and in the end, recession.

Sadly though, consumption and behavior patterns will not change overnight – not until consumers are directly affected by their excesses. When this happens, new businesses intended primarily to meet basic ‘need’ can (at least in theory) absorb the backlash of an austerity drive. How this actually pans out in our big, bad, gluttonous world, is yet to be seen.

 The writer is a communications consultant based in Lahore.

Khizr.imran@gmail.com