NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Within the past week, consumers have forced PepsiCo's ( PEP) Frito-Lay to recall its biodegradable Sun Chips bags because they offended their ears and forced a proposed Gap ( GPS) logo into the abyss because it offended their sensibilities.

As cranky colleagues have noted, this country used to produce steel.

Last week The Atlantic's Alexis Madrigal devoted some serious page space to the notion that American ingenuity, which once split the atom, has declined to altering the molecular composition of biodegradable snack bags. Salon followed this up by noting that, as American consumers rail and cry over the inability to have a midnight snack while their roommates sleep, China is about to become the world's leader in digital computing and data communications patents.

Gap
The Gap's old and new logo is at left; the logo it adopted and abandoned in the face of massive scorn -- a U.S. manufacturing base and pretty high on the list of exports, too -- is at right.

The American consumer's freakout about the Gap logo only adds to Madrigal's argument that perhaps the nation should be dreaming bigger than consumer goods and, at the very least, attempting to balance the importance of a new Apple ( AAPL) iPhone and space exploration. With NASA's Space Shuttle headed to the scrap heap, the most promising advances in space flight are coming from the private Virgin Galactic; space tourism as a whole is getting as much attention from companies as space exploration, suggesting the consumer's voice is drowning out arguments for innovation in that sector as well.

Meanwhile, the Institute for Supply Management noted earlier this month that U.S. manufacturing orders, production, employment and deliveries are all slowing or decreasing. America's bridges, dams and pipelines are crumbling and its drinking water is increasingly unpalatable, but a logo change along the lines of what Pepsi inflicts on the world every seven years or so is worthy of immediate action.

Does it mean that American society is doomed? Not really. Consumer demand has been a forced for positive change as well, as evidenced by automakers' embrace of hybrid technology and more fuel-efficient vehicles in the wake of $4-a-gallon gasoline prices in 2008. When the drumbeats of "voter anger" and "job creation" are muffled by that same sentiment, though, the consumer population needs to realize that its dollar is as powerful as its vote -- and should be treated with the same gravity. Consumers can either focus their collective frustrations on getting Tropicana to give them back their cute little orange-with-the-straw logo -- the retail equivalent of crying wolf -- or they can let the Gap's logo change and Sun Chips' noisy bags go and use their influence to change something they actually value, from working conditions at manufacturing plants to the cost of their weekly grocery bill. The U.S. has spent the past three years amid economic instability, but its consumers complain as if they're spending during a carefree boom.

Madrigal suggested that America follow the advice of Silicon Valley's Tim O'Reilly's to "work on stuff that matters," but consumers would be better served by following the advice he offered during the recession's beginnings in 2008: "Get rid of the 'nice to do' things, and focus on the 'must do' things."

-- Written by Jason Notte in Boston.

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Jason Notte is a reporter for TheStreet.com. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Huffington Post, Esquire.com, Time Out New York, the Boston Herald, The Boston Phoenix, Metro newspaper and the Colorado Springs Independent.

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