April 15th in Consumer Nation

It’s April 15, 2008. Tax day in consumer nation.

The whole idea of being a consumer nation is one I’m uneasy with. Sure, choice is great. But being a consumer forces us to become experts in everything we want to eat, use, drive, build, and care about. Marketing and advertising overload is not there to help, but to persuade. There aren’t objective experts anymore. If you want to buy a car, you have to become your own car expert, and fend off the half-fact, half-truth of the car salesman. Becoming an expert takes time, and sorting through information we don’t have a background in is exhausting. We fight with information overload, become inpatient and make poor choices.

I’m not so sure we should have turned our lives into a giant consumer experience. Medicine was easier when the doctors were experts and we consulted with them. Now our health care is a consumer experience, and we have to cut through marketing, advertising, and hype to choose our medical care. A large number of people are diagnosing themselves from TV ads, and doctors, ever in a hurry to spend no more than 7 minutes with a patient, are giving us what we, the consumer of medical care, want. This scares me. A lot.

When you go into a doctor’s office, you are likely to be asked what websites you consulted to reach your diagnosis. Why am I doing the doctor’s work? I don’t have the training or the expertise, and while the Web has 100 million sites, many of them are poorly researched, badly written, confusing and incomplete. And it’s my job to figure out the complex working of the biological system that’s my body? And I’m still paying huge health insurance premiums?

Before I follow that line of reasoning, I’m going to pass on a gem I unearthed about where your taxes are going: For every dollar you pay in taxes, 4 cents goes to education. Ten times that, 40 cents of every dollar, goes to running the war in Iraq.

We are a consumer nation, and knowing how we spend our tax money is a clear view of what we think is important. It forms our culture.

–Quinn McDonald is a writer who runs workshops on various communication topics–writing, speaking, creating presentations. See her work at QuinnCreative.com