Shopping frustrates and disgusts me. I hate it. Usually, when I need to buy something, I research what I need so that I know exactly what to buy, and I research the best store that has the best price for it. The actual shopping trip consists of going to the store, picking up the item, paying for it, and returning home. You’d think internet shopping would be perfect for me. True, it’s easy, and often far cheaper than buying from a bricks-and-mortar store. With the internet, however, I cannot touch the item I’m looking at, I cannot see its dimensions accurately, and check out other aspects of its physical appearance. Since I’ve been a loyal customer of both Lands’ End and L. L. Bean for years, I have no problem ordering clothes online. What I have problems doing is buying stuff, spending money, especially if there’s absolutely no reason for me to own it.
The economic success of the United States of America depends on people spending money and buying things, whether here or in another country, whether manufactured goods or professional services. We are programmed from an early age that buying is good, it’s fun, and to measure success by how much we own. In order to buy, we must have an instrument of exchange: money. The more money we have, the more we can buy, the more successful we are, according to the belief system in our society. Other societies on this planet also share this belief system, but not all. So, we are a consumerist society.
Except that there are people who take a different view toward life and living in this society. Things are less important. They measure success in a different way – how they contribute to the well being of their community, neighbors, children, even…the world. Their motivation comes from a much different place in their consciousness, and perhaps, their soul. These people contribute to the knowledge we have, they save lives, they give us beauty and entertainment, they pass on what they know and experience. Do we as a society look at them and celebrate their success? Or do we still measure their success in terms of how much money they earn and how much they can buy with it?
There are certain items, commodities, that every person needs and must buy in order to live comfortably: clothing, shelter, food, transportation, and medical services. I’ve often wondered why it’s OK for people to sell these things to other people and make money from the exchange. Everyone needs these things. Well, one possible reason might be as an incentive to produce quality and variety. Our marketplace is a competitive one. Being able to earn money is a powerful incentive. In order to be able to have free commodities, we’d need to remove money as an incentive. That’s a tall order. Money is intertwined in every aspect of our lives.
I buy clothing when I need it, pay rent and utility bills, buy food, and buy a fare card to ride the city buses and light rail. Some people shop for clothing for hours and hours, or buy far more than they need in order to be in fashion (whatever that truly means since trends change so quickly in the internet era). Is there anything that I will shop for hour and hours to buy? Yes. Books. I love bookstores (not internet bookstores) where I can browse for hours and find books I didn’t realize I wanted. Compact discs and DVDs. I can walk into a music store (yes, they still exist) and browse for hours, walking out with an armful of CDs and/or DVDs. Ordering books, DVDs, or CDs online actually keeps me from spending too much money because I limit myself. It's too easy to shop online. I know that my book, CD and DVD libraries may reveal much about my interests and tastes, but they do not measure my success.
Are you a consumer? How do you measure success?