Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Zen of Brick and Mortar

So, I was buying printer cartridges and paper in my local neighborhood "mega" office store (that's sarcasm folks) the other day, having a discussion with the store clerk about the true meaning of "100% recycled;" offering that I enjoy speaking to a live human I can look in the eye and with whom I can make human contact, when she expressed the idea that "most people don't like to come into the store to shop; they like buying on the internet."

Setting aside the fact that the preceding is an awfully long run-on sentence, my colleagues at Open Media Boston (and a good chunk of the under 30 population) think I'm a Luddite because I refuse to Facebook and Twitter. I do all my audio editing on a computer, blog, text on my cell phone (somewhat reluctantly - ask my wife), instant message, and post to the website, but to some people that's not good enough.

No, I'm required to surf and search, google and bing, and hunt down my quarry (in this case a tri-color cartridge for an HP deskjet printer) like a leopard caught between the cross hairs of a Browning A-Bolt. (ok, I admit, I googled "big game hunting rifles." Hey, I never said it wasn't cool to have a library sitting on your desk!)

Who are all these virtual people, buying notebooks, blotters, office furniture, and paper clips, sight unseen, off the web? Are they chained to their desks?

Or are they at best shy and at worst misanthropic; so much so that the thought of being in proximity of other shoppers makes them cringe like a liberal at a Republican candidate's pledge for "no new taxes."

I have to admit: what the clerk said the other day can be observationally verified. A new mega-chain office supply store opened in Roslindale earlier this year, and the place is a mausoleum. Two city blocks wide and deep, there's hardly anyone shopping there. Not enough staff either. But how can you blame the corporate owners for keeping the workforce low, given the diminshing traffic of shoppers? What this accomplishes, of course, is an ever-widening spiral of low expectations on the part of consumers, stressed out workers, and capitalists who continue to live for the moment instead of thinking of the long-term ramifications on communities.

But I digress.

What a I wanted to say is that I like going to a brick and mortar stores with shelves and cash registers and (hopefully) customer-service minded employees and other citizens. I always try to engage people in conversation especially those that look like no one has spoken to them for ages without criticizing their work performance or the supper they burned last night or denied them insurance money for a pre-existing medical condition.

A little joke here, a nod of agreement between folks when some other customer embarrasses themselves with a silly question or complaint there...this is all missing from the internet buying experience. Convenient sure; but totally devoid of community.

Now don't go reminding me that I was in the store to begin with to buy stuff to feed the computer beast.

Life, like politics in Massachusetts, is messy.


Blogger jpramas said...




July 30, 2009 at 9:22 PM  
Blogger Jesse Kirdahy-Scalia said...

My first job was working as a video game salesperson at Toys R Us. While I felt some community with my coworkers, it was mostly because of an "us vs them" attitude directed at the customers. We always griped that we would be able to accomplish our jobs if only we didn't have to help shoppers.

From the shoppers perspective, I despise commercialism (surprised?) and by extension, shopping. The only stores I ever feel comfortable in are Microcenters and Frys--huge electronics stores filled with nerds like me.

I don't shy away from being called a misanthrope. Quite the contrary, I embrace the term as it applies to my "real life" interactions--those unpredictable, unscripted, surface-level relationships with strangers. However, online, where I interact with people around content, around ideas, and with the instant ability to log out and turn off the computer when I've reached my tipping point, I think I'm rather social.

I'm comfortable with a different paradigm of human interaction--one that requires a different repertoire of social and technical skills--but human interaction, still.

And for the record, Dave, I'll never ask you to Bing anything. (Though I might suggest you

July 30, 2009 at 10:56 PM  

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