Editorial: The pursuit of things and convenience

Friday, November 24, 2017

The day after people give thanks, they say, “Thanks, but we need more.” You would be hard-pressed to come up with a wider philosophical gap than the one between Thanksgiving and Black Friday, but the dichotomy is so very American – land of the free and home of the brave shopper.

For better or worse, this is a consumer-driven society. Children learn early on about instant gratification and how to spend money they don’t have, and a high credit score has practically joined honesty and compassion among the most important human qualities: “Sure, he’s a bit of a jerk sometimes, but his FICO is 760.”

But don’t make the mistake of thinking life was somehow less commercial in the olden days. This country was built on credit. If the day ever comes when Americans decide to save their money instead of spending it, the house of cards will collapse. That was just as true in the 19th century as it is in the 21st.

Today, the endless pursuit of things will lead some people to purchase items that make their world smaller. The shiny new phones they hold in their hands will give them access to most of the human race’s collective knowledge, a treasure trove of information unimaginable not long ago. The enormous televisions they buy will offer them a chance to see once-hidden parts of the world and known universe with a clarity just short of physical presence. The laptop computer they unbox will save hours, days, months of their lives as it replaces trips to the bank, grocery store, mall – even the doctor’s office. Of course, there is something lost in all of that gained time and convenience.

There was a time when the word “convenience” itself was most closely associated with mom-and-pop stores like East Concord’s Quality Cash Market, but those days – like Quality Cash – are gone. Now, convenience means minimal effort, or no effort at all. It means drone deliveries and cashier-less shopping. It means a full embrace of technology that is outdated the moment it hits shelves. It means less human contact.

We were more of an occasional guest at Quality Cash than a regular. On dark winter evenings, we would pick up a pie or cookies for the kids waiting at home – an admittedly manipulative ploy but what dad doesn’t desire a hero’s welcome? And on those mornings when a packed lunch was forgotten on the kitchen counter in haste, salvation came in the form of Quality Cash’s ham salad sandwiches. Whatever the reason for our visit, the store was unfailingly warm and familiar. That’s how the old mom-and-pop stores are, how they’ve always been. It’s how places feel when the people inside are not just passing through on their way someplace else.

This is not a lament, and we have no use for sentimentality. The world will continue its march into an unknowable future, and it is much better to be a person of one’s time than a person of a time that is no more. But as face-to-face, in-person human interaction becomes less and less necessary, it’s up to us all to rebel against the isolation inherent in technological convenience.

In that sense, perhaps Black Friday isn’t so bad after all. On Cyber Monday, it may even seem quaint.