Spring is turning to summer here in the high desert and the restless energies of the changing seasons are moving through me.
I’ve been cleaning out my office little-by-little lately, going through old mail and the like. The idea of shredding documents impacted me surprisingly deeply this time.
When I’ve worked as an internal consultant, shredding doesn’t bother me. In fact,I usually don’t give it a second thought. I just put the unsolicited mail in the blue shred bin and away it goes.
I would imagine the same happens with people who work in large organizations. Those organizations make deals with vendors who have big trucks and huge shredding machines. The shredding company picks the stuff up and shreds it securely. It’s costly, but economies of scale kick in and organizations with tons of excess paper value the benefit of secure shredding.
In my home office where I’m leading a start-up company, I conserve everywhere I can and won’t pay someone to shred documents for me. No way.
So this time, shredding all the old files and mail was mind- and soul-numbing work. After eight full hours of shredding, I was overwhelmed and only half done. I was amazed not only by the quantity of paper and its high quality gloss, but also by the nature of the paper I was grinding into tiny strips in the small machine that chugged to a stop every 20 minutes or so.
Unwanted advertisements were pushing me to do something—buy a product, open a credit card, join an organization, read a newsletter, donate money, travel somewhere. As I shredded mailer after mailer, the dollar signs began clicking in my mind. Millions of dollars in advertisements—people paid to write them, printers paid to print them, photographers paid to take photos, mailing costs to send them.Then the sound of trees falling crashed in my head. So much waste. Uncountable millions of dollars of waste were represented in these unsolicited, unwanted ads. Each piece of mail reached out hungry fingers searching for some sucker to respond.
I wondered what our society would be like if those millions of dollars spent on advertisements were spent on something more useful, like education, health care, eradicating poverty, jobs, or housing? The list of societal needs grows pretty long in no time at all.
Ads are a hungry-ghost realm. Hungry ghosts have huge stomachs and little bitty mouths. They are never satisfied and endlessly strive to feel full. Advertisers have a huge hunger for new customers who will spend their money on their particular product. Their small mouths, represented by each piece of mail, seek consumers to leach off while consuming resources without thinking. The mailed ads are tossed aside, shredded, recycled or piled in the landfills. If we respond to one of these ads, we receive more ads, more letters, special invitations, catalogs, or newsletters.
It seems we’re stuck in this realm. This is how advertising works. It is an unceasing search for sales; an unending push for increasing consumer demand. What a waste.