Education for the conscious

The hardest part about being a conscious consumer is staying informed. While brands may change their environmental stance, social movements will rise and fall in popularity, and governments will sludge along, the core motivations behind my purchasing decisions remain the same. I configure my daily habits to support the change I want to see in the world.

Documentaries haven’t been the sole source of my education or motivation for being conscious, but some have made a considerable impression on my world view. These three documentaries were especially influential and they represent pivotal moments of understanding in my journey to becoming a conscious consumer.

This list can easily be extended, but in minimalist fashion, here are the essentials:

1. The Century of the Self

  • 2002 British documentary series by Adam Curtis
  • Time Commitment: almost 4 hours
  • Watch on YouTube: The Century of the Self

If you want to get up to speed on the history of consumerism, this is your documentary. The Century of the Self covers the evolution of our consumption based culture, drawing a direct connection between psychology and techniques used in advertising and public relations. The documentary does a tremendous job of outlining the history of our relationship with products and offers a rational explanation for why we have developed a superficial culture around fashion and commodities.

The Century of the Self is particularly intriguing if you’re interested in science. Through its four parts, this series digs deep into how Sigmund Freud’s psychological theories on our subconscious ‘primitive’ decisions have been used by public relations professionals to manipulate the public. Tied in with industrialization, this new understanding of human nature has been used to shape a consumer culture and offers a shocking explanation for where we are today.

If you really want to dig deep on the psychology of decision making, I recommend the book Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman. He explains the two parts of our brain’s thinking process: 1. Fast, instinctive, and emotional 2. Slow, deliberative, and logical.

2. The Story of Stuff

  • 2007 Animated documentary by Annie Leonard (now the executive director of Greenpeace)
  • Time Commitment: 21 minutes
  • Watch at storyofstuff.org: Story of Stuff

This quick documentary is a great way to learn about the lifecycle of consumer goods. If you’re wondering where all the “stuff” we buy and throw away comes from, where it goes, and how it’s impacting our environment, this film will answer your questions.

The Story of Stuff has almost 4 Million views on YouTube. If you missed the viral sensation when it was first released, now is a good time to go back and get caught up! And if the last time you watched it was when it went viral, you may want to take another look. It’s an inspiration for conscious consumers to take action and the movement has evolved into much more since the documentary’s initial release.

3. Food Inc

  • 2008 documentary by Robert Kenner
  • Time Commitment: 1.5 hours
  • Watch at pbs.org: Food Inc

In an hour and a half Food Inc exposes the problems of industrial food production and shows viewers the solutions we can support. The film inspects the environmental, social, and economic impacts of industrial food production, revealing how unsustainable it is. The film dives into both the industrial production of meat, and grains and vegetables, highlighting the many unsustainable characteristics of each.

Food is our most frequent purchase and has one of the biggest impacts on the world. If you want to be an informed consumer and make conscious decisions about the food you buy and eat, this documentary is a much watch. Similar to Story of Stuff, Food Inc has also carried its momentum into a movement and offers several ways to get involved.

 

There are a plethora of documentaries covering environmental, social, and economic movements that would be great additions to this list. But as far as documentaries go, I consider these three to be the most influential in my education as a conscious consumer and I think they make a good base of education for anyone interested in understanding consumerism.

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