“Consume” really is a bad word. One dictionary gives these definitions: to destroy, as by fire; do away with; to use up, spend wastefully; squander (time, energy, money, etc.); to eat or drink up; devour, to absorb completely; engross or obsess. Sounds like a monster, doesn't it?
It has an ugly cousin, materialism. The more people can buy the more we want, it would seem. The more materialistic we become, the less happy we are. The Worldwatch Institute published an article in February of last year (you can find it on their website here), and it made the comments that "research … says that the more materialistic people are, the lower levels of happiness they report. And it says that there appears to be a correlation between rising consumption and the erosion of the things that do make people happy, especially social relationships, family life, and a sense of community."
Enter now the do-it-yourself culture. It does foster this sense of community noted above. It fosters a hands-on approach to life, learning to make things, refurbish things, reuse things as opposed to tossing 'em in the bin and buying the newest thingy.
MAKE magazine is a treasure for these do-it-yourselfers, gardeners, conspiracy fans, etc. It displays off-the-grid living, some practical, some extreme. Admittedly, I'm not quite intelligent enough to grasp all the concepts paraded in the two issues I was able to peruse. Some of these industrious folks are terribly ingenious, fashioning mechanical walking contraptions, robotic houseflies and plywood boxes to heat water. There's even an article about using your own feces as compost. See, some is a bit extreme.
At any rate, it's all inspirational. These people are finding new ways to live with the world, not in the world. Discovering this magazine — and this culture — in the present economic downturn is providential. Do you need to reduce your electricity, fuel and grocery costs? Well, Volume 18 of the magazine proudly presented information on "remaking" America — by monitoring energy usage in the home, capturing solar power, it provides some gardening tips and profiled modern and historical pioneers of the DIY philosophy.
The pages include home projects. Volume 19 profiles cool robotic projects. Yes, it will help you build your own robot and a patio chair (not together, they are separate projects — but, follow MAKE's lead and create your own robo-patio chair). The projects have the instructions you'd expect and a complete materials list. And this is stuff these guys put together in their backyards, basements, garages. They are proud to mention that it'll cost under thirty dollars to make.
It's a well written journal, very accessible. The writers seem genuine in their desire to share information. Plus, it just feels legitimate. There are numerous websites out there that seem are, well, a little cheesy and some that focus just on obsessive penny-pinching. MAKE presents projects and approaches that are balanced — mostly. The journal can help you reassess your consumer habits.