Shop Till You Drop - I Shadowlands

Ray Levasseur (c) August 1997, All rights reserved

The Ghost Of Christmas Past

Here it is, the day after Christmas and the numbers are in. The great god of the late twentieth century, the almighty dollar has spoken...and it is not happy at all with the actions of it's children. "Thou hast not spent enough money this season. A plague shall be upon the land. There shall be layoffs, there shall be a great gnashing of teeth and much dumpster diving by the NOW, unemployed in those dark days. Repent and spend, or suffer."

The most disappointing returns seem to be in the area of personal computer sales, at least that's what I read in the business section of a newspaper someone left in the cafeteria at work. The tone of the article was not "cheery". Retailers who sell PC's reported abysmal sales for this category of consumer electronics. I just knew it, HOTCHA! The great prophet (moi) predicted that sooner or later PC sales have to level off. How long would it take until every man, woman and child has at least one PC to their name? During the last 2-3 years I have made a point of observing the purchasing habits of people waiting in line at the one-out-of-many computer mega-stores I shop at. I'm guilty of contributing to the ill health of this market segment since all I ever buy is a book here and there, blank floppies, zip disks, ink cartridges and printer paper. Well OK......I fess up, I also bought a flatbed scanner, zip drive and 32 meg of ram, but that was spread over all of 1996. And then there's my 2.5 year old 60 MHz Pentium machine...PAID FOR.

A number of the sales people have warned that my machine is "dreadfully" obsolete, and that I have already fallen woefully behind in the race of the BIGGEST and FASTEST. Then there are those queued up at the registers pushing those flatbed carts piled high with "spanking new", 166 MHz and faster Pentium machines, or equally nimble Power Macs. It's not just the system boxes, but piled high also are the 17-21" monitors, laser printers, scanners and every other possible add-on a consumer could dream of. One husband and wife tag team in front of me was pushing a heavily laden flatbed with not 1, not 2 but 3 (yes THREE) 200mhz Pentium based tower systems, with matching 17" monitors, 3 laserjet printers and 3 flatbed scanners. A second cart was filled with enough Microsoft products to fuel up one of Bill Gate's private jets. So OK I made a bold assumption that Mr. Gates owns at least one corporate aircraft.

I stood in awe as the cashier rung up the grand total, which was in the 5 figures. Bold me asks the husband, "wow, that's some purchase you made there. Is that for a small business?" He turns and smiles, "no we have three kids in school and each needs (NEEDS?) a PC for their school work."....must be some school, and SOME curriculum to require that much horsepower. Perhaps their children are all majoring in nuclear physics. There was another customer I observed for a while, who made a point of wheeling their flatbed cart up each and every isle that had other customers in it, "scuze me! scuze me! thank you, scuze me." Were they merely shopping, or did they just want to show the world, "lookit what we're buying, a top-o-the-line Power PC with every conceivable goo-gah and add-on.

In every computer store I walked through, this scene, or very similar was repeated. If you multiply that by all the computer stores, super stores, yuppie toy stores, etc the numbers become mind boggling. And yet, to listen to the post holiday rush market reports, you might think that not one single personal computer was sold.

As Rosanne Rosannadanna says,
"ya know, it's always something!"

I doubt if the world's billionaires and entrepreneurs have our best interests in mind, continually coming up with new, faster and better products.....just because they like us so much. No! the planet's greedy also know there comes a point where the market will become saturated....and we all know where that leads; layoffs, unemployment, etc......except for the filthy rich, who will take their billions to new uncharted territories where a new cycle will begin.

This year the new Web TVs made their appearance. Or as some call them, "Internet appliances." I played around with a display model, which I found rather unexciting, but it is an Internet entry point for every Joe and Jane six-pack in America. It seems if the market powers that be have their way, in the not too distant future, you won't be able to have a bowel movement without "the net" having something to do with it. Perhaps this will help pave the way for the long prophecized "anti-Christ" and one world system. Maybe it's nothing more than just another way to sell and saturate a market with products, like hula hoops, cars with big fins and polyester leisure suits. There is something about this trend in the "digitization" of every aspect of our lives that tells me, "this is not just merely another fad."

I had been working with computers long before I bought my own machine. My first PC, a Tandy 8086, was already considered "antiquated" before I even laid the plastic in the cashier's hand. It was all I could afford, even though coworkers and friends insisted that I go for all the performance I could afford. At this point the 386 was pretty much the bread and butter processor, with the 486 edging it's way into stores.

Live and learn! The 8086 was "cute" and had a quasi graphical interface called, "Deskmate". At the same time my peers were running Windows 3.0 on their 386 machines. I could not run windows on my 8086, so after a year took the advice of friends and peers, biting the BIG one and upgrading to a 486/DX33. And of course Windows 3.0 was being nudged out by 3.1, which I just had to get a copy of. Then CD/ROM's began to show up on more shelves. I got a wicked good deal on a Soundblaster 1X drive and 8 bit sound card; all this and software for $499. And to think today you cannot give away a 1X CD/ROM drive.

Spring Has Sprung, So Have My Speakers.

Well, it's now mid-Summer and the arthritic 60 MHz Dec Pentium keeps on flawlessly chugging along. The siren song of, "bigger is better" almost woo-d me into donating my current machine to charity, "Computer Literacy For Rain Forest Pygmies." After coming to my senses I decided to keep my machine, "till death do us part," it's or mine, whichever comes first.

I became an avid audiophile in my youth and from 18-40 kept the consumer audio products industry going. My current collection of top shelf audio gear is about 10 years old. My 20 year old Large Advent speakers finally passed away due to rim rot. I could have repaired them, but maybe it was time to buy new ones. I picked up a pair of Bose 301's and admit to being "blown away" by the performance of these little gems. Hopefully I'll get another 20 years from these, which would make me 70 years old by then. I'll probably be long dead and gone by then; one less consumer to keep the "retail machine" healthy.

Cars, The Necessary Evil Among Us

Hey, what's this! On the rare occasions I turn on the tube, there seem to be car commercials. The first car I owned was a British Ford Cortina that sold for about $2,000 new, then 2 Ford Pintos that also cost about $2,000. And there was the Ford Mustang that set me back $4,000. From that point on, it got much more expensive. I opted for an 87 Ford Escort next to the tune of about $10,000. I loved all my Fords; they ran and ran and each one was traded with 100-150K miles. I'd probably still have the old Escort today if it was not for inheriting a 91 Honda Civic. I'll keep this one till it or I depart this life.

This is NOT good news to the auto industry; buy, buy, buy! newer is better. Hey and what about those sticker prices! It seems that $13-17K (after adding in all the taxes, fees and hidden costs) will get you basic transportation. The big yuppie trend right now is the SUV, Sport Utility Vehicle; whether they actually need one or not. Talk about "sticker shock".

I know for many, the car is an extension of the ego, phallus, or a statement to the world that, "I have arrived, get outta my way." They'll need to bring me into thought control central for re-programming, "consume, spend, buy, charge it, be a good meat puppet and consume." So what do my cars say about me; scrooge? tightwad? loser? I really do not care what the drivers of the "Trendia Luxus - Supremo, all wheel drive, satellite navigated, Internet ready, automated everything", think! If they want to shell out $30-40-50 >>>K, that's their folly. I always shopped for bargains, Mom and Dad instilled that in me at an early age. A Car is merely a means of getting from point to point, tend to devalue, grow old and break down. I look for the least expensive, reliable solution. But! where are people getting the money for these very expensive statements of "self?"....Oh yes, now and pay, pay, PAY later. In end, every single vehicle winds up on Mount Trashmore.

Consumerism, Where I Stand Today

When I was younger, much of my efforts were in the pursuit of more stuff. It was my recovery work, coupled with a return to the Christian faith that opened my eyes to the realization, "what am I going to do with all this stuff? Do I really need this stuff? Where am I going to store all this stuff?" And finally...."how am I going to pay for all this stuff?" I probably thought that just this one more purchase might bring me happiness, filling the emptiness inside. I would buy the latest toy, feeling a slight elation as I left the store. Then I would race home, unpack it, set it up, turn it on (where necessary) and feel a sense of temporary satisfaction. Very soon the high went away and I was still who I was before, still alone and still empty. There was another part of me operating that felt, 'people will like me if I have this or that, wear this outfit, but this brand.'

Wrong again! People "might" want to borrow my latest toy, or get one of their own....then I would be once again, back to square one. I slowly learned that money and possessions do not buy love, peace of mind or happiness. In moderation material assets can be fun, make work easier, etc. The entire consumer industry is banking on most people never coming to this revelation.

Of course after you die, you can't take any of it with you. Through recovery, Christian study and some tough knock from life. I began to live more simply about 10 years ago. Some say I live like a monk; well not quite. My living spaces have become simple, yet comfortable. I sold off or gave away most of the excess clutter.

Many might not consider me a "great" Christian as I seldom quote Scripture (poor memory for names, faces and exact quotes...old age or dementia) but the Bible does say it's OK to enjoy the fruits of our labors; but don't make it your life's goal, "he who dies with the most toys wins!" He who dies, dies, going on to meet his maker. His toys will remain in this plane, for the family, friends and enemies to squabble over.

End Of Part 1, Shopping For Fun

A few friends wonder where I get the self control. I can spend an entire day shopping in a mall or resort town and come home empty handed. Book stores might be another story, depending on what I feel like reading. I used to have enough books to fill a small town library. Again excess baggage that I probably would never read again. A truckload of books went to charity; a church, a drop in center reading room for people with aids, a senior citizen's center. I enjoy buying inexpensive pleasures like books, then if I do not chose to keep them, pass them on.

I love going into computer and audio stores to check out and play with the new toys and gadgets. I may get involved in some pleasant conversations with sales people over the merits of this and that model; but no sale.

Corporations spend mega-billions on advertising, as a gamble that X percent of the population will purchase their products. Oh, I confess, and beg forgiveness of the manufacturers and purveyors of goods.....I don't think I have ever bought an item because of some annoying ad I saw on TV or a magazine. If I need to replace a dead or aging product, I usually check with people who own similar makes and models of goods for their opinions.

In a future journal I will speak more on this subject, but for now, be wise, ask yourself if you really need whatever goo-gaw or trinket it is that's making your wallet burn in your pocket, check out all the factors and merits of ownership.