The Real Reason We Shop

The exciting thing about Black Friday isn’t all the stuff that’s on sale, but the fact that so many people are in one place.

That’s what we really go to malls for, after all—isn’t it? When you go shopping, is it really the stuff you want? Or is the premise of seeing so many other people in the same place as you secretly comforting and exciting?

The stuff of our society is distraction. Material things for sale are an excuse we use to gather in large numbers in a single place. Even if we don’t talk much to each other, or only say “Hello,” what we really get off on when we go shopping is seeing each other—definitely more so than the objects we are looking at.

It’s obvious. If you think about this the next time you go into a store- especially a mall- you will see this has been true for you all along, but you were always too distracted by your apparent quest for looking at and potentially buying stuff to notice.

The stuff isn’t bad. It’s not that we don’t want the stuff, too—though you have to admit that you have both looked at things you had no intentions on buying, and have made purchases that you later regretted. It’s just that the stuff isn’t our top want. The real draw of a shopping area is the premise of hundreds- even thousands- of people being gathered in one, open place, appearing to all be doing roughly the same thing. It’s an opportunity to flock. It’s a chance to see other humans come out of their caves and be in public.


A Mall is a Perfect Place

What’s extra juicy about a mall, compared to any other place, is that at malls people take their sweet time. At any given time, a great many of the people inside a mall are wandering relatively aimlessly. They came out with a sense of curiosity, drawn by the premise of being in a free area with so many others who look closely-enough like themselves.

This is unlike a grocery store, where people usually go with a purpose in mind and try to get in and out as quickly as they can. Likewise, malls are more desirable than bookstores (and libraries, similarly) because at bookstores people expect one another to be burying themselves in books—and this expectation is generally correct. As such, bookstores facilitate much more introversion than malls do—and introversion is not what people go to malls for.

Malls are also more desirable than restaurants in that malls offer greater freedom. In a mall there is a lot of space which people can occupy, and people are free and expected to move anywhere through that space that they please. At restaurants, on the other hand, there is an expectation of relative privacy within public. Peering at a table of strangers in a restaurant is much less welcome than peering at a stranger in a mall—especially if that stranger happens to be wandering aimlessly just like you are.

Finally, malls are more desirable than both public parks and amusement parks because these places are far more distracting than malls. For one thing, they’re out of doors, and both scenery and weather can take up a good portion of attention. For another thing, there usually are things to do at these places, and such activities are just way too distracting.

Malls, on the other hand, have just the right level of distraction. What malls have to offer are not activities but inanimate and inedible objects, which you can pick up and take home with you if you trade enough pieces of paper or swipe a card that represents an electronically-based entity that contains a sufficiently-high number. The amount of stimulation these objects have to offer is just high enough to keep us at the mall for quite some time—and also just low enough so that they do not consume all of our attention at all moments. This perfect combination puts us in exactly the position we want to be—able to be around large numbers of people for relatively long periods of time, and able to give them some of our attention, but not too much of that attention. And if all of the people involved are doing this exact thing, there will be some interaction among them, but not too much, since they are sufficiently distracted by the presence of stuff.

This is exactly what people want, because too much interaction would be frightening. People go to malls to peer at other souls, but not into those souls.


A Place Without Distraction

Can you imagine a mall without any stuff to buy? Could you see people going to a large, indoor place solely to be together in large numbers? There’s nothing else to do there. It’s just a big, blank building set up just like a mall, except there aren’t any stores. Would people go to such a place? Would they admit, through their actions, that they simply want to go be where other people are?

Would it be worthwhile to create such a place? Or would the people who would be genuinely interested in such a thing have other places to gather anyway?

If we took the shopping out of malls would people be disappointed? Relieved they don’t have to shop anymore? Or scared that they now have to face each other, because that’s what they’ve wanted all along but were too hesitant to admit it?

How would you feel? What do you go shopping for, anyway? If you could create a place that reflected what you really wanted, what would it be like? Why haven't you created it yet?

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