My View

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

I think, therefore I shop...

Back when I was a kid, there were only four or five channels on television and you could get a unisex hairstyling for only 20 bucks. It must sound silly to you, but it seemed normal at the time. There was no Home Shopping Network when I was your age; no Amazon.com. If you wanted to buy something, you had to go to the store.

What's a store, you ask? Well, it was what we called a building where you went to buy things. You can't imagine a more unpleasant experience. You actually had to drive there, find a parking space and then walk on your own two human feet into the store. Sometimes you'd have to go out in the rain or on really hot days. It was horrible. Then you'd look around, try things on and, when you found something you really liked, you'd take it to the checkout counter and pay for it. If that store didn't have what you wanted, you'd have to go to another one and start all over.

A checkout counter? It's kind of a desk with a ... ah, never mind, ask your mom to explain it to you. You ask a lot of questions for a fifth-grader. When I was your age they used to think that spending too much time in front of a TV screen was bad for you. Laugh all you want, but that's the way it was. My folks used to say things like "Turn off that television and go do your homework."

Of course, now we know better: Sitting in front of a computer screen is your homework. Your mom tells me you're getting good grades in Internet Shopping, but you're flunking Return Authorizations and Shipping Costs. You'd better buck up, son. You're not going to get into any of the best colleges with those kind of grades. A "C" in infomercials? Please. That's third-grade stuff. How are you ever going to pass "Spam" if you don't start spending more time on your fanny in front of the computer?

Don't you know how lucky you are to buy anything you want with a phone call or the touch of a button? You never have to leave the house at all. And look at all the wonderful stuff you've got that I never had when I was a kid. An AM-FM clock radio that plays "You Light Up My Life" when you wake up, and this wonderful HANDMADE PORCELAIN DOLL THAT ACTUALLY SINGS "BABY LOVE" IN THREE-PART HARMONY! And it was yours for only $19.95, a dramatic savings of over 63 percent! And doesn't your mother have a heart-shaped, seven-carat cubic zirconia pendant that normally sells for MORE THAN $150 a carat, but because we ordered today and because Budget Bob just felt crazy, didn't we get them for only $50 a carat? Her friends WILL NEVER KNOW THE DIFFERENCE! And doesn't your dad have a pave-face men's link bracelet watch that, if you could buy it in one of those stores I described, would have cost $89.95? And don't we have telephones shaped like turtles and genuine brasslike bird sculptures and stained-wood wine racks and Capodimonte demitasse sets and marble fern stands?

You won't believe it, but they used to run these long boring things called "programs" between the commercials. Some of them didn't sell anything at all. What a waste of TV time.

Someday, of course, they'll invent a robot that will shop for us. It will know exactly what we want and how much money we make and it will spend it all for us. We'll no longer have to waste time shopping. We'll never have to shop again.

Now stop crying, son. It may never happen. I was just .... Vanna, don't yell at me. I was just talking to the boy. I know he should be watching television, but 10 minutes with his granddad ain't gonna kill him.

* Jim Mullen is the author of "It Takes a Village Idiot," and writes a weekly column for Pilot-Tribune readers.