Shopping and Hope

by F.

Shopping is fun. Yeah, you may argue with others over a preferred mode (online versus physical world), but you can’t deny it’s entertaining to shop. And I mean the whole process of looking into what you’re going to buy, searching for it, getting it, using it. I suspect there’s an evolutionary story to be told here. Hunting and gathering are shopping.

It seems generally true that people’s shopping outruns their actual consumption. Look in the garage of the average suburbanite in the rich world. Power tools (which get on average about ten hours of use during their lifetimes), golf clubs, boat engines, weight sets, tennis rackets, games. It would take lifetimes to consume all the leisure hours that these things could provide.

I tend to buy a lot of books. But perhaps a month ago, I started calculating the total cost of a book. That is, not just the dollar cost but also how many hours it will take me to consume the book. So if I bought, say, Volume III of Remembrance of Things Past, it might cost me $5 (used), but it would also “cost” me perhaps 10-15 hours as well.

This made me rethink my book consumption habits. I realized that the buying was much of the fun. Not the consuming (in the sense of buying and reading). And then I thought, Why? Why is it fun to buy books (or golf clubs or poker chips or chess sets) even though you (realistically) won’t read them?

I think it’s giving yourself a future. Every human being needs something to hope for. Retirement, a new job, a new spouse, a new car. Or a new book or a new keychain. It’s something out there in the future that you can be reasonably certain you’ll get. You’ve essentially reached out into that future and placed something there. You’re on a hike and you’ve left a cookie for yourself at mile 23, and from mile 1 through mile 22 you’re thinking about how good it’s going to taste.

I’m not sure I would recommend my approach of calculating the total cost of things. It makes the world seem a lot more finite. It’s like calculating how many books you can read in a year. It’s not that many, really. And it gets worse if you think about how many of those books you really understand deeply (especially if they are in areas you don’t know).

I suspect that a little bit of slop, or imprecision is good for the soul. Ignorance gives room for a feeling of freedom. And that feeling is comforting, though almost certainly based on misperception.