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Beyond Consumer Society and Towards a Meaningful Exchange

Updated: May 8

(Based on Alain de Botton's book: The School of Life: An Emotional Education; Chapter IV: Work).

It was my case, and that of many others, that when we entered the University we had a leftist heart. With my spirit of change agent and the typical naivety of a young person exposed to education, I began to hate the consumerist society in which we live. Hate is a strong word, but analyzing, that was the feeling I self-generated within me.


-Plastic, pollution, species extinction, climate change, greed, selfishness- All these adjectives and many more I used to describe the consumer society in which we live. I remember entering Chinese supermarkets, now very common in Costa Rica, and seeing the amount of nonsense, ugly plastic toys, and thinking: Who really needs this? A cheap and graceless gadget.


Xu Zhen, a Chinese artist, built an orderly supermarket, combining all the products in a symmetrical arrangement that gives calm when we see it. However, when you take a product and scan it, the receipt comes out as empty, conveying the message that what you bought has no spiritual value. The artist's goal is to mock supermarkets and the commercial system, where it's a place that promises to give us everything we need, everything looks tempting but most products are filled with things that don't really nourish us.



Nevertheless, all these things that seem graceless to me, and Xu Zhen, somewhere, someone fulfills their schedule, day by day, to produce that toy. Then it gets exported, arrives in Costa Rica, gets sold, and provides jobs to people throughout the chain. This is just one simple example of the great amalgam that is our consumerist ecosystem. Whether we like it or not, these small trivial purchases are what fuel exchange, create jobs, and generate immense wealth. And they also generate all the adjectives I used at the beginning.


A few years ago, I decided - as a verb, an action that I remember every day - that I was going to look at life with less bitterness and more construction. For this reason, Alain de Botton's beautiful question resonates with me: How can we create a society where we can take the best aspects of our consumerist society -economic growth and employment- and foster a more meaningful exchange of goods, rather than just encourage the consumption of spiritless goods-like the ugly plastic toy-? In other words, can we generate wealth and also have a degree of virtue?


For Alain, the reform of capitalism consists of the critical task of conceptualizing an economy of higher needs. Taking Maslow's hierarchy as a reference, How can we satisfy our higher, spiritual needs through the consumer system once basic needs are provided for? Are they really opposites? From my optimistic perspective, I think it's more of an opportunity to generate new ideas that include the creation of products with a more meaningful focus.


"It's just coffee!" is sometimes the phrase I use when I'm showing the product to a customer. And the truth is, it's not just coffee. Time, weather, soil, everything required to produce a cup of coffee, and all the people involved in this production system, are part of the product you are buying. I seek to provide information about what we know how to do, and what we experience every day in our work. It's not exactly the transcendence that can satisfy Maslow's higher needs, but it's a product that begins to give value to information and empowerment to the consumer. And it's a path that begins to be traced, little by little, towards the utopia that could be creating a society where buying is an experience of meaning and spirituality.

Dota Coffee Company


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