Friday, June 29, 2007

Ahh, To Be An Awake Consumer

Americans have been sleepwalking while they shop. What exactly do I mean? I'm talking about the physical reaction that I, myself, have experienced -- as a reformed mall rat -- of being unconscious while shopping.

It was my generation that turned shopping into a pastime. It used to be that shopping was something we did when we needed something. Now we shop for the sake of shopping. Americans don't even think this concept is strange. How many times have we gone out with, say, $100 and come home with $0 and have absolutely no idea what the money was spent on. Or been floored by your credit card bill not realizing that you spent that much? That's American consumerism. It's literally killing us while enslaving much of the world in the process ... and if we don't do something about our unhealthy buying habits, it will enslave us, too. It's already begun.

I don't think that we booksellers have been very good at driving these points home. Actually most small merchants have not been very vocal at all. We have been afraid to speak for fear of offending our customers. This has been a large mistake. Big corporations are feed by our silence. They grab our half conscious customers with visions of huge overstuffed shelves and discount prices. But we know that hidden behind this image in the book business are shady business practices of all kinds, and in other industries, there is slave labor practices, child labor, sometimes even forced prostitution.

Shopping is like casting a vote: when you purchase something, you are saying that you endorse the way the item has come into your possession. In other words you endorse the practices of the place where you made your purchase.

Being awake requires a shopper to ask a few basic questions when they shop:

  • Do I really need, or even want, this item?
  • Where was it made?
  • Who made it?
  • Can I afford it?
  • Who is selling it to me?

If you feel comfortable with the answers to all these questions, then make your purchase in peace. Otherwise, move on.


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