My life is so far removed from contemporary consumerism that every once in a while, when I am exposed to the day-to-day workings of a consumer lifestyle, I am awestruck with culture shock.
Such was the case today when a realization became quite clear to me - one which had eluded me thus far in my simple life of antique-buying and online marketplaces.
(Bear in mind that I have lived the majority of my adult life without ever walking into a brick-and-mortar store. But really, in 2013, who would ever need to?)
It had been a week of online purchases which continued to reinforce the absurdity of chain-store shopping. I first needed a simple data/charger cable for a mobile device. A no-brainer, I presumed. Just out of humorous curiosity, I checked the price at my place of work - they ranged between $7.60 and $23.94 including sales tax.
And just as expected, a 10-second search across multiple online marketplaces yielded a distributor in Hong Kong with the same exact cable, new, with original packaging, a purchase-price guarantee, and a log of 1,500 positive customer transactions in the past 6 months. The price online? 99 cents. Tax-free. With free shipping.
Next, I needed a hard drive to expand my Music Workstation and my mirrored back up disk to 6TB each. Laughably, the single highest-capacity internal 3.5" drive sold at my workplace was a mere 1TB, and was priced at $179.99 plus tax. Warranty services (the "sucker feature") were available for an additional $39.99.
Of course it was no surprise that a two-minute cross-referencing of Amazon, eBay, Tigerdirect and Newegg.com produced a Seagate 4TB internal with over 200 satisfied customer reviews and a no-cost replacement policy for $160, again, tax-and-shipping free. Once again - that is four times the capacity of the higher-priced item from my store.
Now of course tech purchases are clearly something one would never purchase in a physical shop. There's simply no reason to when compared to the infinite product availability, sales history information, customer and professional reviews, merchant data, and competitive pricing that the internet offers.
But my new realization was one step beyond this clear and simple fact.
As a man who has always purchased antiques instead of buying anything new, right down to my thousands of rare LPs which I always buy from flea markets, record shows and online record trading sites like Discogs.com, the idea of buying something new is something that seldom crosses my mind.
Still, as of late a few household essentials have come up which the world of antiques simply cannot satisfy.
First I looked for a hand-carved solid rosewood full-length mirror. I was going to commission a local artisan to craft it for me, or perhaps purchase the raw materials and use a friend's wood shop. But then I found a variety of solid oak, cherry and other elegant full mirror pieces on Amazon for $18 - $50! (Surely this is some form of sales trickery with the word, "solid," most likely with a core of medium density fiberboard, but for $18 it's madness to turn it down.)
Next I considered purchasing stretch velvet and satin from a fabric store and making a full-size comforter for my velvet and satin bed set which I'd assembled. The material would set me back ~$80. To my absolute shock and surprise, a buyer can't even FIND a single comforter for sale on Amazon anymore - everything is sold as "Bed in a Bag" garbage! I must beg the question - doesn't anyone design and assemble their own bedding decor anymore?
But that's when I saw the pricing for a SEVEN PIECE velvet comforter set on Amazon. It includes 1 comforter, 2 shams, 1 bed ruffle, 1 neckroll, 1 square cushion and 1 bolster cushion. The price? $59 marked down from $200 with free shipping. Bloody hell.
It rapidly became apparent to me that "new" merchandise is so inexpensive that it renders the art of custom-crafting almost moot.
This was a startling realization about the nature of contemporary consumerism, and will take a while for me to fully digest. Indeed, I will order the seven piece velvet comforter set, and I will likely order a solid rosewood full-mirror as well. And, quite likely, I will bury the memory of those purchases deep in the recesses of my mind and return to my humble life of crate digging, antiques, and vintage apparel.
The notion is just too much for me to bear at this point in my life.
I welcome your thoughts. Thank you.