The psychosis of consumption - The Consumer Self and the Civic Self.

When it comes to consumption we have 2 conflicting personalities that work against one another - our consuming self, and our civil self. Their experiences are supported by separate systems and different organisations. The battleground is the customer experience, the prize - improving the negative impact of consumption.

One of these personalities is an active member of society, doing things on behalf of the community. Concerned about the general well being of others. Through this lens we worry about the environment, feel slighted by big corporations who seem to poison the planet, help our neighbours, save for the next generation, and thoughtfully separate our re-cycling.

In contrast, the consuming self indulges their dreams with purchasing new products and services. Blinkered to their personal impact on the environment. They love the thrill of getting the right product that fulfils the dream. And when that product is exhausted, broken, or comes to an end, they don’t dwell on it, they look for a new one. 

Systematic blinkering
These two selves avoid one another, which is easy as the systems that they live in everyday rarely references one other. 

The consuming self lives in the commercial system of the customer life cycle, which encourages self satisfaction, and consumption. It uses tools of adverting, marketing, and design to flatter the user in to making the next selfish purchase.

The civil self, lives in the altruistic system of the community, which encourages responsible thinking, neighbourliness, and concerns itself with the environment and globalisation. They use tools of democracy and citizenship to lobby governments, create community programs and raise awareness of their cause of being better citizens.

A different langauge

A different langauge

Protecting bad behaviour
The consuming self is protected from civil self when consuming. The commercial system avoids talking about issues that will alert the civil self to its consuming actions in fear it will put the consuming self off their consumption. To do this the customer lifecycle is punctuated by messages that reinforce the selfish good feeling of consuming. Reassured that the product is right for them, how to use the product correctly, what makes it high quality and the best deal. Every aspect of the customer life-cycle reinforces the consuming self apart from what happens when usage ends. 

Once broken, outdated, or un-fashionable the product is no longer the problem of the consuming self. The handover takes place and it becomes the problem of the civil self. Who need to deal with things like broken electronics, redundant cleaning products and the exhausted batteries of broken toys, amongst the other weekly rituals of recycling.

The Cliff of Consumption
Currently the consuming self pushes the problem off a cliff of consumption down on to our helpless civil self to deal with. The consuming self, and the mechanism that supports that personality have little interest in joining these two experiences.

Conversely the civil self finds it hard to talk the same language that the consumer self uses. The translation often ends up sounding like guilt. The user experience of being a consumer and being civil are not easily translatable. But they could be.

The 2 personalities of the customer lifecycle

The 2 personalities of the customer lifecycle

Resolving your personal differences
The potent moment at the end of the customer lifecycle is overlooked as a solution for improving the negative impacts of consumption. We can call this part of the customer life cycle the off-boarding phase. It should be filled with closure experiences that help bridge the conversation between the consuming self and the civil self. 

Acknowledging closure experiences in our consumer lifecycle can help alleviate the cognitive dissonance between our conflicting personalities. Alerting the consuming self that there is an onward journey to the product they have disposed of. And aiding the voice of the civil self to be heard in the deafening noise of consumption.

We cant end consumption, and feeling guilty about it isn’t really actionable. Consumption should be one user experience, not two. We need to create a customer lifecycle that acknowledges the end of the product or service relationship and aids dealing with its consequences. This means resolving this split personality in all of us. We need to create common user experiences that have encouraging language around endings, that stop our civil self being flattened by our dominate personality. We need to create more closure experiences.