It was almost exactly a month ago that I tossed out a few ideas for posts, The things I didn’t say. Given the 14 posts in between, I clearly didn’t quite stop blogging entirely.
One of the ideas that I believe is “post fodder” (not C&I essay fodder) is this one:
A post about â€œcitizens and consumers,â€ recognizing one peculiarity of my household that probably warps my perceptions on some issues. Maybe later.
Maybe now. Not dressed up–this is a lunchtime post–but this is what I have to say.
Background: I had NPR on while shopping or driving home or something. A woman was being interviewed who had, with some friends, tried to go for a “year without shopping”–that is, a year without buying anything new except food (or whatever–I only heard a few minutes).
The woman discussed one difficulty: You get bored, you go shopping. That’s what we all do. If you don’t go shopping, what do you do when you get bored?
Recognition: I realized at that point that there’s something wrong with me. My wife too. I don’t believe it would ever occur to us to use shopping–and, worse, buying–as a way to relieve boredom. Maybe that’s because neither of us is particularly fond of shopping. Or of buying, for that matter.
And I resent the hell out of it when I’m “addressed” as a consumer or customer, by the government, any agency of the government, a magazine… (or, yes, a library: I am not a library customer although I am a library patron).
While it makes me hear Patrick McGoohan in my mind’s ear, and visualize a big bubble floating nearby, I am inclined to say: “I am not a consumer. I am a citizen.” Not as catchy as “free man,” but there it is.
I want to be treated as a person/citizen first, consumer second (actually consumer third: member of my community second). I resent being treated as a Set of Shopping Preferences, as a Buying Demographic.
It’s not that we don’t shop, or that I leave it all to my wife. We go grocery shopping together–always have. (Well, she goes to the farmer’s market for most produce; I wouldn’t be any use there, and it’s a good time for me to vacuum the house without deafening both of us.) Since we mostly fix our own meals, that makes eminently good sense. I’m the one who does a “Sunday run” every two or three or four weeks for stuff that makes sense to buy at Target or Trader Joe’s or Office Depot or the like. The fun part of that is that I get to hear a few minutes of Car Talk, but I still love it when it turns out there’s nothing that needs to be purchased on a particular weekend.
But shopping for the sake of shopping? Buying stuff to relieve boredom? Not a chance.
We don’t get bored easily. There’s always a backlog of reading material. My wife’s spending more time playing piano these days, along with gardening and a research project. I spend a certain amount of time writing, of course, and on the web. We both watch some TV (right now, including the weekly movie and old series on DVD, that works out to right around 8 hours a week–a week, not a day–for both of us, and an extra 90 minutes for me each week for the next 15. WPT, if you must know. Taped on a VCR. We don’t own a DVR, partly because they seem to be great ways to Watch More TV.).
And there are always books to be read. A couple hundred thousand about 7 minutes away, neatly arranged and all for free!. I figure there are at least four or five thousand that I want to read or should read.
To those who feel the need to Go Out and Buy because they’re bored: Most places have one of these collections of free books and other materials, usually with experts who can help answer questions and find what you can use. Reading is a great way to conquer boredom. So are meditation and deep thinking, but I know that’s a lot to ask.
So there’s the shameful confession. We’re Bad Americans. We don’t feel it’s our duty to Consume. When we do buy, we spend enough to buy something that will last, rather than buying something cheaper several times over. We’ll cheerfully pay for quality (and, within reason, we’ll cheerfully pay to keep local businesses alive). But we buy because we have use for something.
Maybe that’s one advantage of always living in a starter home: There’s really no room to keep acquiring stuff. You learn to buy only what you have real use for.
And no (another Unamerican alert), we haven’t carried a balance on credit cards in a very long time. We use them, to be sure–but we use them (and get 1% cash back), they don’t use us.
I know: It’s not a deep or philosophical post. But someone asked for it. So there it is.