Why Can’t we learn from others’ blunders?

Recently I came across an incredible corporate story from the US. Can you believe that an ex-Walmart business strategist Andy Ruben joined hands with a Walmart critic and environmental activist Adam Warbatch to set up a new venture with the sole purpose of reducing purchase of goods and materials worth 200billion USD annually? A company, Yerdle,  was floated in San Francisco in November,2012. Here is how it would work. You log in through Face Book to enter a well-designed marketplace carrying photos of items your friends and friends’ friends would like to sell or rent for free. That is, before making a new purchase, you would check out at YERDLE. YERDLE would offer their services to coordinate and ship out items on payment of a fee.

The saving of $200 billion is an estimate of the percentage of the $1 trillion in durable retail goods purchased in the U.S. each year.

So, you save money as well as reduce waste by sharing and reusing goods. This is a typical “Sharing Economy”. I believe this concept is catching on in the US as a number of startups like YERDLE are being planned.

Clearly, in the west there is a growing realization that they have taken a wrong route to civilization. Sometimes, in their enthusiasm to reverse the trend in life styles, the Americans overreact and resort to rather bizarre experiments in extreme living. For instance I read somewhere that certain American communities are committed to what they call Paleodiet. Paleodiet is the diet of paleolithics or the hunter-gatherers (ancient cavemen), who lived for more than 2 million years untill the onset of agriculture about 10000 years ago. The diet would consist of meats, fish, fresh fruits, veggies, Nuts and exclude all cereals, refined salt & sugar and dairy products. The modern scientific view is, of course, against the diet because we are not identical to our Paleolithic predecessors. While such extreme ideas are certainly not desirable, the experiment on the lines of YERDLE is surely compatible with our traditional culture of sharing and caring. Unfortunately, though, we are blindly aping the West in everything that we do. We are happy to follow the white men whose standard of living and life style is judged by how much he consumes. The more you consume or waste, the merrier for the likes of Walmart.

Even people from the West are shocked by our new culture of excessive consumption. Recently, one French woman and an environmental activist visited India to participate in Sustainability Summit. She was surprised to find that every YUPPIE(Young Urban Professional) in India is focused  on buying a car. She further added that in Paris, where she lives, most of her friends including herself do not own a car. Owning a car is such a hassle in metros like Paris. In Mumbai, where I live, the norm is to own 2 cars per family. If you have 2 cars – one SUV and one small car – you have arrived. Having one car may be justified considering the state of our public transport. But two cars? It beats all logic in a metro where there are no parking lots. Traffic congestion and bad  roads only add to our woes.

The situation is even worse if we look into our Mall culture. Consider the following statistics, for instance. In spite of  the slump in our economy, the number of malls has doubled during the past 5 years and the mall areas are becoming bigger and bigger. The logic of the mall developers is to bring all retail brands under one roof.

Is this Choice or over-choice? In the book titled PARADOX OF CHOICE – WHY MORE IS LESS, the author argues forcefully how over-choice can lead to depression and loneliness. He says – there are too many choices, too many decisions and too little time to do what is really important!

Choices give one a false sense of well-being and happiness. As an analogy consider the late 1990s science fiction thriller THE MATRIX,  This film is about humans who are enslaved by machines  but made to believe they are free under the influence of an artificially created  virtual reality. Extending the analogy of the film, I think the malls are creating the illusion of freedom by giving us unlimited choices under one roof but are actually enslaving us. They create bondage by getting us addicted to walking around malls, create desires for unwanted luxuries, and condition us to do impulse buying. We eventually get mal-adjusted to the mal-content resulting in mal-functioning! What is the solution to the mal-ady? Very simple. The answer lies in going back to our roots, our good old tradition of simple living and great thinking!

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Published in: on August 11, 2013 at 3:55 pm  Leave a Comment  
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