Baffled by the State of Present-Day Consumerism

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.

Views: 357

Tags: amazon, artisans, brickandmortar, consumerism, custommade, diy, ebay, handcrafted, newegg, online, More…pricing, thehighcostoflowprices, tigerdirect

Comment by Kairan Nierde on September 12, 2013 at 10:18pm

Are you saying you're upset that mass production lowers cost to the point that artisans cannot compete? It sounds like you've led a life outside of the mainstream...I'm not judging that but I wonder if you were home-schooled? The industrial revolution is a topic worth looking into and in economics, you'll run into a term--economy of scale--that describes why this happens. I don't want to come off like I'm talking down to you, because I really respect your savvy for finding good deals and finding quality products. I find it's good to check in with the mainstream now and then just to see what the rest of the world is up to...and it can be a bit of shock!

Comment by innerspaceboy on September 13, 2013 at 12:20am

Kairan, thanks for your reply.  I am entirely self-educated, which I'm sure is apparent from my lack of knowledge of late 20th century American culture, (something I've abstained from most of my life.)

I was dropped off at an asylum as a child and was "educated" by nurses schooling rooms full of children ages 12-18 where the general practice was to teach down to the dumbest kid in the room.  I quickly realized that this was no more than an obligatory pantomimed act to satisfy the state.

Seven years later, upon my release, I tested out of high school with honors and was given a Regents diploma. 

Suddenly independent, I enrolled at a local university, but made sure to eliminate all forms of mass media and culture from my life.  I've never owned a television, or radio, nor have I ever purchased a newspaper or a periodical.  I instead occupied myself with Futurist manifestos, early 20th century radio programs, antiquarian literature, Deutsche elektronische kosmische musik, musique concrète, and other forms of entertainment.

Frankly I detest contemporary culture - from the music to the fashion trends, from product design to the nation's obsession with dollar store plastic merchandise.

Every five or ten years I'll take a peek at the mainstream and each time I am saddened and repulsed. 

Still, I will read up on the "economy of scale" you mentioned.  And I thank you once again.

Comment by Unseen on September 15, 2013 at 10:27am

You remind me of Phil Hartman's "I'm just a simple unfrozen caveman lawyer" SNL bit.

I remember an exchange I overheard years ago in a neighborhood convenience store. A woman was ahead of me at the cash register. She said, "You know, this soda is only $1.25 at (name of local grocery store)." The owner replied, "So, why don't you go buy it there?" "Because they are closed." "Well, there you go," the owner replied, "that's what the additional 75 cents is for." 

Yeah, you can get your product off Amazon instead of the local store, but not before tomorrow or the day after, depending upon whattime of day you place your order. And you might be paying a lot extra for overnight shipping, too.

Let's not pretend that there's no downside to all this online convenience. It costs hundreds of thousands of jobs in the United States and millions worldwide. The efficiencies also drive prices down which is also a mixed blessing because it does drive storefront business out of business, meaning that when you need that widget ASAP, the store that might have sold it to you a year ago now has a "For Lease" sign in the window.

Comment by H3xx on September 16, 2013 at 1:30am

To be honest, I think you just got lucky, finding a bunch of cheap stuff, because I'm always broke, and the only thing I buy is gas and lunch. :'(

Comment by Stutz on September 16, 2013 at 2:33am

Should we be taking this seriously? I'm honestly asking, not trying to offend. Your whole persona and back-story seems a bit...fantastical. Clearly you are a person living in 21st-century America who is internet savvy and college-educated. But you're saying that you were raised in an orphanage, tested out of school, and since then you've essentially voluntarily sequestered yourself into a sort of one-man steampunk commune lifestyle, surrounded by antiques, consuming old literature and odd music, and sleeping in velvet? Perhaps you should write a book...

Comment by Ed on September 16, 2013 at 8:09am

"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.)"

Ah yes, the good ole Walmart MDF furniture with imitation wood veneer. Unfortunately today's society has, for the most part, lost the appreciation for handcrafted product. The labor & skill involved for a local artisan to produce a quality piece is almost universally unappreciated. This lack of appreciation is not intentional but based on ignorance. It can be terribly frustrating dealing with individuals who don't understand the time, required skill level, and commitment needed to produce items that will stand the test of time. 

Comment by RobertPiano on September 16, 2013 at 6:27pm

I agree with Stutz. I think your story is interesting and could make a fantastic book.

Comment by innerspaceboy on September 16, 2013 at 8:18pm

Thank you, everyone for your feedback.  To address a few of your points -

@Unseen - I'm entirely aware that the online global marketplace hurts the brick and mortar economy.  But I also believe that the brick and mortar system will be gone in 5-10 years, save for the economic lower class who are content will walking into a Walmart for all their household needs.  The rest of the world will move on to online markets with their incomparable selection and competitive pricing.  And waiting for shipping is all part of the fun.  Americans have become children demanding of instant gratification.  The rest of us will leave them to their brick and mortar shops, and we'll move forward.

I support a few select physical shops locally - namely my local tea shop, my various antique dealers, my pro-audio shop for vintage turntable and amplifier repair and for documentation of the value of these irreplaceable devices and rare LPs, and a few dusty old gems of antiquarian book shops.  I support each of these businesses for the same reason - the staff is unparallelled in their expertise about their product.  Tom Kohn, owner of the Bop Shop in Rochester, NY has been the center of the jazz scene since he first opened his doors 30 years ago.  And I can consult him about the catalogs of Karlheinz Stockhausen, Vladimir Ussachevsky, Manuel Gottsching, or any other avant-garde composer and he will always be able to supply me with a wealth of information and rare wax.  The same goes for the tea shop, the rare book shop and even my antique dealer, who recently furnished my lair with a stunning painting of H.G. Wells' The Time Machine in a massive Victorian gold frame, painted in 1971 by a local artist.  (You can see the painting by visiting the link at the end of this response.)

@H3xx - Luck has nothing to do with my finely honed skill for acquiring rare vinyl, books, vintage clothing, pro audio equipment, antique furniture, and electronics for ~30% of the MSRP, or at least below cost.  I've spent years garage-saling, antiquing (locally and online in many countries) and teaching myself to be the most educated consumer I can be.  Before I buy any LP, no matter how rare, I cross-reference the matrix number/catalog number against multiple internet vinyl sale archive sites, calculate the mean, median, lowest, and highest prices paid in the last year, and then I do the same for alternate pressings which would satisfy my taste until I arrive at a decision which matches both my budget and my desire to collect VG+ - NM original pressings of rare experimental works.  I have a similar process for any type of consumer good I ever need to purchase, and I save thousands every year.

@ Stutz - Believe me, I am a far cry from a troll, and this is all quite real.  But to clarify -

1) It was a series of asylums and in-patient "homes," not orphanages.  No shoelaces, no electrical cords, and lots of rubber walls.

2) I earned my freedom just about in time for my senior year.  I had a lot of time to read books while I was locked up, and have a sound understanding of the sciences and of mathematics.  And nothing is easier than multiple choice Regents exams - to tell the truth I could answer any similar test with 85-100% accuracy without ever reading the questions - the multiple choice answers give you everything you need to know.

3) Check out my ThinkAtheist blog post called A Guided Tour of the Lair (the update of which should be approved by the mods within 24 hours.)  Yes, everything is either velvet or satin (or both.)  My lair is complete with a Philco console radio with fold-out 78 player, and no television in sight.  You'll also see the aforementioned H.G. Wells painting.

I write about 1,000 words each evening... mostly about the global music foundation I'm building.  Thus far, I've developed a web radio station featuring over 100,000 tracks which were never released on CD, a record label which will reissue rare and out of print recordings, a successful music lecture series, and an archive of over 8,000 rare albums.  And just last week I published the Fall 2013 Edition of our Archive's catalog.  None of this is live publicly, however, as I need to find a country with more progressive copyright laws to make the vision a reality.

A local university which was the epicenter of the experimental music scene in the 70s has offered me a scholarship with a free ride to any program I desire, plus a stipend to cover my living expenses. 

Maybe I SHOULD write a book...

 

Comment by Unseen on September 16, 2013 at 9:01pm

@Unseen - I'm entirely aware that the online global marketplace hurts the brick and mortar economy. But I also believe that the brick and mortar system will be gone in 5-10 years, save for the economic lower class who are content will walking into a Walmart for all their household needs. The rest of the world will move on to online markets with their incomparable selection and competitive pricing.

I guess you see a world 5-10 years from now where we all basically live in a hermetic capsule, never going out and feeling the sun on our skin or the wind in our hair. I think you overestimate the appeal of living as an agoraphobe.

And waiting for shipping is all part of the fun. Americans have become children demanding of instant gratification. The rest of us will leave them to their brick and mortar shops, and we'll move forward.

Going out and shopping is hardly "instant gratification." Also, you forget that with storefront options, you can examine your product before you buy, and if you find what you like, and it's not THAT much more expensive than ordering online, why not just buy it?

I support a few select physical shops locally - namely my local tea shop, my various antique dealers, my pro-audio shop for vintage turntable and amplifier repair and for documentation of the value of these irreplaceable devices and rare LPs, and a few dusty old gems of antiquarian book shops. I support each of these businesses for the same reason - the staff is unparallelled in their expertise about their product. Tom Kohn, owner of the Bop Shop in Rochester, NY has been the center of the jazz scene since he first opened his doors 30 years ago. And I can consult him about the catalogs of Karlheinz Stockhausen, Vladimir Ussachevsky, Manuel Gottsching, or any other avant-garde composer and he will always be able to supply me with a wealth of information and rare wax. The same goes for the tea shop, the rare book shop and even my antique dealer, who recently furnished my lair with a stunning painting of H.G. Wells' The Time Machine in a massive Victorian gold frame, painted in 1971 by a local artist. (You can see the painting by visiting the link at the end of this response.)

Pardon me. I just threw up in my mouth.

Comment by H3xx on September 16, 2013 at 9:35pm

I can't wait to have a 3d printer that can print it's own circuits and components, because then I'll just download both my mp3 player, and my mp3s.

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