Pardon the “get off my lawn” post, but I’m 40 now. There comes a point in every man’s life where he embraces his inner curmudgeon. There comes a point in every man’s life where he finds himself less identifying with Ralphie than with his cranky dad. I’m choosing 40 as that point. (Although, those who know me, know I’ve always adored my inner curmudgeon.)
Anyway, this brief post is about a small, counter-cultural decision that the Ragsdales made this Christmas. This year we have decided that as much as possible we are going to do our shopping at brick and mortar stores. If a toy is available at Toys R Us and at Amazon, we’re shopping at the store even if it costs us a few dollars more. We will undoubtedly do some shopping online, but only if we have to.
Most people I’ve told about this decision think it’s weird and unnecessary. And maybe it is, a little, but “get off my lawn.” There are at least three reasons why I’m convinced this is a good decision.
- Shopping at brick and mortar stores is a better way to support your community. My dad is the mayor of Webb City, and he has told me the city loses more tax money every single year from lower retail sales thanks to people doing more and more of their shopping on sites like Amazon. This causes huge budget problems for a small city where retail is a major industry. Until recently, when we voted to start collecting sales tax for online sales, none of those online purchases contributed anything to the local economy. But even if online purchases are subject to sales taxes, they do nothing to support local jobs or to support local businesses that pay property taxes – all of which go to help fund schools and infrastructure. And won’t it be fun when all of our towns are full of hulking, ugly, empty buildings? Every dollar spent on Amazon is a dollar sent out of your community. In other words, there is a cost to doing all of your shopping online that eventually adds up to much more than the few dollars that you might be saving.
- Shopping at brick and mortar stores is a better way to be reminded that Christmas isn’t just about stuff. This will be very surprising to people who know me, but I actually like going Christmas shopping. I spent one Christmas season working at Sears when I was in grad school, and I loved it. I kind of like the crowds. I like the decorations. I like the Christmas music. I like spending time with my wife and family. Can it get annoying? Of course. Are people often idiots? Yes, but honestly not as often as we sometimes imagine. What’s a little ironic is that when you are out shopping, you are actually reminded that Christmas is about more than consumerism. You see and interact with other, living human beings. You create memories and traditions with your family. You see signs – sometimes subtle and sometimes not – that there is a spirit in the season that goes beyond finding a good deal. When you only shop online, all of that disappears. There is no family tradition involved in clicking on websites. There is no crowd, no music, no spirit – there is just you and the stuff you are buying. If you are wanting to combat consumerism during Christmas, shopping online is one of the worst things to do.
- Bezos might be the Antichrist. I kid. I kid. (Kind of.) But I am more than a little creeped-out by the amount of unregulated power that we have granted companies like Amazon. I don’t know how we ever allowed ourselves to be convinced that putting a corporate surveillance device into our homes was a good idea. (Is Alexa the harlot of Revelation 17? Again, I kid. Maybe.) Bezos may not be the Antichrist, but he is almost definitely Mr. Potter. Imagine the residents of Bedford Falls happily giving Mr. Potter all of their most personal information so that he can make a few more bucks off of them while he quickly puts every industry that they have ever worked for out of business. I’m just tired of giving Amazon all of my money. Bezos has more than enough. And I’m tired of constantly being the subject of an algorithm created in Seattle which never allows me to stop being a consumer. We long ago lost the luxury of leaving our work at work. Now we are losing the luxury of leaving our shopping at the store.