Fours shopping days left til Christmas, and all is a buzz in the commercial world of retail. I have had a few shopping experiences lately that left me asking some questions, the way I always do, about the purpose of all of this. No, these won’t be your typical “reason for the season” questions. Instead, I have some questions about money, and entitlement, and patience, and coupons, and if there is any possible way to make it home from a shopping center with low blood pressure.
It just so happened that I was in the mall at the beginning of this month, a place that I rarely go anymore, and I was struck in my absence by how alluring it can all be again. With the simple swipe of plastic you can have a new wardrobe, automated apple corer, ipod stereo and plate full of Japanese steak while you sit in a foodcourt corral with shopping bags at your feet admiring the ornaments strung ninety feet over your head. There is no need to lie – shopping makes you feel good. It gives you reason to drive home excited after you’ve finished that steak – either you will wrap up your gifts and anticipate the joy from your loved one’s face when they say “this is exactly what I wanted,” or you will open boxes yourself on your kitchen table and begin to explore. I am no different. There is a certain rush associated in all of this newness, and I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing.
I was in Macy’s trying on suits when I got to observe a rare situation at the department check out counter. Two men were working two registers on either side of the counter, and a healthy line grew away into the aisles in either direction. I knew it would be my job to wait in one of these momentarily and I was preparing my brain for patience mode. A lady and her adult daughter were standing at the front of the line fumbling through her purse in search of something. I overheard the sales clerk, “perhaps you can find it in one of our store catalogs at the front.” I supposed she was desperate for the coupons she had cut out of the paper that morning but could not find them. People behind her in line began looking at their watches while the clerk tried his best to keep her calm. Eventually, the clerk succumbed and ran up the discount price on the item anyways, then proceeded to scan the rest of the shirts stacked on the counter shelf. The woman, whose voice was loud and insistent by now, asked the clerk if she could take a look at the receipt before she handed over her credit card. Finding a discrepancy in one the blouses that was supposed to be on sale, she began demanding a price check and ranting to her daughter. Objects that say they are on sale sometimes never really are and, quieter now, this store, well, people just need to have some organization sometimes and I never… I saw the sales clerk take a breath and look at the ceiling.
Coupons. Are they really worth all the hassle? Sometimes I would pay ten extra dollars just to have a pleasant shopping experience where I didn’t leave the mall pissed off and where the sales clerk’s day improved simply because of my presence. I think this requires the predisposition of not feeling entitled to your materialism. A hard predisposition to find. And you came out the wrong exit of the food court? Think of it as exercise.
I was in the Mac store the other day too. Yes, this is a new laptop upon which I type. I felt like I was in the command center for all that is technologically fashionable, as if there were men behind curtains on super computers saying “let’s create this word – it doesn’t mean anything but anyone who does not use it in 2008 will be behind the times.” If you want to keep up to date on tech gear, I recommend a visit the mac store once a month. It takes commitment to keep up with the new products and lingo. The mac store does not have registers. All sales reps walk around with ear pieces and handheld register mini computers. With the click of a touch pen, BLOOP, two thousand dollars gone. Two thousand dollars you never even saw in the first place; into the bank account and right back out. The sales rep hunted us down like we were buying a car. We might as well have been. He even spoke to us in words my mother has never heard before: “Web cast, operating system, .mac, iphoto, imovie, istorage, ilife, iworld, isolarsystem, igalaxy, isalvation.” I would not have been surprised if they started offering us indulgences.
Just how convenient do our lives have to be? Is there anything beautiful anymore about a hard day’s work? Is there anything beautiful about cash, real tangible dollar bills, or getting outside away from your computer to do some hard work with your hands? Is there a danger of technology making our lives so convenient that we will never have to wait for anything anymore – anything we want available to us at the push of a button? Will those objects of desire be so great if we don’t have to work for them, if we don’t have to shed some patience and bear the burden of living life without them?
I think the answer is and always will be balance. There is no sense in shoveling your feet in the ground and resisting to move with technology. I began text messaging last year after I swore I would resist it as long as I could. It’s not to say that I’ve become a cell phone zombie. You balance. There is no sense in refusing to get an ipod or a new computer just so you can relish the idea of inconvenience and “the way things used to be.” That’s about as silly as intentionally seeking out bumper to bumper Christmas Traffic because patience is a virtue. (Although, sometimes traffic is a good patience developer. It helps you enjoy being home all that much more.) Let’s not hold on to the way things used to be. Let’s greet tomorrow but refuse to take it at face value. You participate in technology and you balance.
I wrote this brief poem, though.
“Take a credit card in your supple hands
Trust and be assured
That the whole world is a shopping mall
And currency is its air.
Breathe in and prepare
The feast of convenience is always there.”