Following Things and Shopping

So today I got the chance to start interviewing students at Exeter, both in person and via email. Rather than sharing these all at once, I figure I’ll try and touch on some themes I find particularly relevant to this kind of work, along with some short excerpts and transcripts from interviews.

The Follow the Things site and the work that comes with it stand to have a huge impact on consumer behavior. Knowing where the things we buy come from implicitly holds us responsible for our decisions as consumers, or at the very least gives such decisions greater weight. So did following all these things from production to consumption have an impact on Exeter students’ behavior as shoppers? Here are two perspectives:

Amelia (via email): “Without a doubt, it has (and I think importantly) made me think. When I'm in the supermarket now I think about products, about what to buy, in a way that I've never done before. I can't say in all honesty that my consumer habits have greatly changed because as a student I don't have a large disposable income - but I actually don't think that's the point, because until you've 'followed' something you don't know it's story...it could be that the more expensive brand of biscuits is actually less ethical etc than the cheapest. You just don't know. But I think about it, I wonder now where something may have come from, I think about how it got onto the supermarket shelf. I think simply being aware is still such a massive step forward and a change, and I hope that one day I might be in a better position (both financially, and in what I choose to spend my time doing - i.e. not my dissertation!) to actually make a well-informed change”

Emma: “I think it has changed my thoughts, just the little things, everyday things like going shopping and stuff, now I’m looking for the fair trade label all the time make sure I take my shopping bags with me so I’m not using plastic and, yeah, it’s made you really think about what you’re buying and where it comes from.”

Speaking from my own personal experience, I very much agree with Emma and Amelia. Doing follow the thing work can have effects that last long beyond the end of our respective courses. It’s very easy to take the things you buy for granted and not think about where they came from. But when you stop for a moment to think about how exactly that produce made its way to the supermarket, or how that pair of jeans got to the store, you begin to recognize the many connections that exist through seemingly innocuous things. At least that’s how it went for me.

I’ll stop there for now, but more to come. -Jeff