Our minds on media.

Musings on the effects of media on cognition.

Back to Common Consumption

I’ve not posted on Banapana lately for a couple of reasons. One, The semester ended about a week ago and I’ve been taking it easy. Two, I’ve been twittering a lot more than blogging. I think that must be one of the most nerdly comments I’ve made in ages! Nonetheless, media’s effects on cognition is not something that’s been particularly salient with me since I’ve been spending a lot of time outdoors and on my bike. In fact, I’ve become rather absorbed with my bike since I got it outfitted with carrying gear. My trips to the grocery store and elsewhere (as well as the news) have got me thinking about conspicuous consumption, eco-friendliness, and what not. And the thing is, I hear a lot about people going to the gym and working out and then finding time saving devices for cleaning and cat entertainment as well as cooking. Everything must be easier! And in the big picture, this isn’t making a lot of sense to me.

I think there must be a basic equation (and mine may not be it) spelled out something along the lines of:

Energy consumed – Energy output = Health

I think this deserves a little bit more thought, but I can see the parallels to economic concepts of utility and budget, where rather than talking of utility, we’re talking about health. The point is that there is solid balance available to us relating these three terms, and this is most easily explained through the example of my newly outfitted bike and also primitive human behavior. Back in the day we had to forage and hunt for food. I don’t think that the evolution of our physical bodies has changed much in the intervening 100,000 years (or so) and neither our metabolisms. Having to work to get food is pretty much how we’re built. And in that somewhat ideal evolutionary scenario it is a good thing that someone spend as much energy as it takes to get them the food that they need to get up the next day and find the food. 1

The problem with going to the grocery store in your car is that you aren’t expending that much energy. And you are also polluting the environment that makes that food that your are buying. The shipping of the food to your grocery store is also polluting the environment that makes the food that you are buying. (And let’s note here that pollution, referred to as a negative externality by economists is not helping your health any.) This sort of recursive thinking goes on and on. And then, you didn’t grow the food, till the fields, pick the crop, etc. You didn’t expend any energy (proportionately) getting the food. But since you did get the food and ate the food, and then sat at a desk for eight hours, a lot of the energy (i.e. calories) seems to be collecting on you.2 So you go to the gym. You burn fuel (not your own) and pollute the environment to burn off calories that wouldn’t be there if you were working to get the food! And again, this sort of recursive thinking goes on and on, and can seem a bit depressing.

Variety is the spice of life. It’s awfully nice that we can have mangoes in Kentucky and oranges in Maine and I’m not sure that I have a problem with that. This is not a back-to-basics argument in the hippy sense. This is a back-to-common-sense argument of looking at yourself as an individual that consumes food and needs to expend energy in ways that industrialized (or should I say informationalized) jobs don’t. At some point, we, as a society, saw it as convenient that we should drive to work and drive to the grocery store; everything laid out before us. But then, the calories available in even an apple started to increase due to technology and yet the fuel efficiency of our vehicles has not improved congruently and before we know it, there’s a tug on our health as well as our GDP and problems with the environment.

Now let me say that I like my computer, my air conditioning, and my apartment. Again, I’m not advocating a back-to-basics attitude (the commune or the collective farm or otherwise). I’m advocating a focus on the Energy output aspect of this equation. There’s an awful lot that we as individuals really can do to help with the environment, and the bonus is that there really is a payoff for you. We tend to think of these crazy, huge environmental and government problems as beyond our control, an yet, this is easily within our means to personally repair, all the while reaping benefits. It’s the American way! What benefits me, is good for everybody. We just have to slightly adjust our attitude toward what is “beneficial for me,” from convenience to health. Not hard, I think. We’re halfway there; we just need to think in terms of the equation above in order to reasonably measure the cost and benefits of our actions.

  1. I’m sure we’re all reminded of the modern-life joke that “I go to work to make the money to pay for gas so that I can go to work to make the money,etc.” 

  2. Considering my readership this is a distinctly first world problem and essay. To those of you reading this and regularly expending energy (probably and unnecessary amount) my apologies for being myopic. 

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