Monday, December 8, 2008

Procrastinating Consumer

Have you heard about the 270-pound man who was trampled to death a few weeks ago?

No, he wasn't working the rodeo. It wasn't cattle that trampled him.

It was shoppers. At a Wal-Mart. On Black Friday.

Two thousand of them broke through the doors of a Long Island Wal-Mart and stormed the poor security guard who was trying to keep them back. I'm trying to wrap my head around it-- trying to understand how it's possible to put your foot down on top of another human being and just keep going. To feel the squish of his body under you. It's clearly not floor you're walking on. It's a human being. Didn't they notice? And it wasn't just one individual who did this, but enough of them to stomp out a life. Do the people who killed him even know what they did?

I doubt that any of those shoppers woke up that morning thinking, "I'm gonna kill a guy today." Let's give the tramplers the benefit of the doubt. Some of them had been waiting in line all night long. They were restless. They were grumpy. Maybe the people who actually walked on him had no choice. The crowd probably moved as one, people pushing from behind, jostling from the sides. The tramplers may have been locked in position and had no choice but to walk on top of the security guard.

As Lenny on the Simpsons said, "We're going to give the word 'mob' a bad name."

I understand that some people really look forward to the day after Thanksgiving as the "busiest shopping day of the year." That it's the busiest day is actually an urban myth, but the day does have the cultural significance of a Super Bowl for consumerism. Shoppers really get into it. So much so they will trample anyone who stands between them and a few hundred bucks off a flat-screen TV.

For me, being forced to participate in Black Friday would be one of the circles of my own personal hell. I really can't understand people who get excited about this kind of thing. It's like making an event out of scrubbing your toilet. I hate shopping. I hate crowds. I hate traffic.

On occasion I do like to buy stuff, but I'm really not a very good consumer.

When it comes to buying stuff, I procrastinate. I'll consider something for months, sometimes even years, before I finally get the inspiration to actually buy it. The reason that I blog about so many of my purchases is that I don't do it very often. I thought about buying a new car, and even printed out some pages from Consumer Reports, a full year before I bought my Prius. The new vacuum I bought last January was for my new apartment, which I had moved into five months earlier. (I've had this post in my Blogger queue since then, so for the past year I've even been procrastinating about writing about procrastination.)

If I go to the store with a list of five things to buy, I might end up buying two. The other things I look at and think, "Eh, I don't really need that" or "that can wait til later." It's the opposite of the Impulse Buy. It's the Impulse No-Buy.

So it's really hard for me to imagine why people would put themselves in a position to trample a guy to death on the way to buying something. They weren't hungry and clamoring for food. They weren't being oppressed and demanding civil rights. They weren't trying to get on the last helicopter out of Hanoi. Hell, they weren't even waiting to get exclusive concert tickets.

They wanted to buy shit. The same shit you can buy any other time of the year.

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