On Saturday, I went to a big box store
to pick up a water filter and a birthday gift for my daughter. Total
"I don't need a bag," I told
"Mom," my son nudged me. "You
do need a bag. She'll see it."
Right. "Can I change my mind?"
The cashier nodded and slid my
purchases into a bag before chasing them with the receipt.
My son pointed. "That's not going
to hide anything."
"No," I agreed. "They
probably use clear plastic so people don't steal anything."
Other stores use similar tactics: garish orange PAID stickers on
plastic milk jugs. RFID devices buried inside books. Security
I took my bag and we headed out,
pausing to laugh at a sixty dollar electronic Furby that, apparently,
can learn to communicate with its owner. At the exit, a beefy
security guard approached us. I held up my bag so he could see
"Receipt." He extended a
"Are you serious?"
I withdrew the receipt and gave it to
him. He studied it and nodded once, neat and tight, before returning
it to me.
"I think this is the last time
I'll be shopping here," I said as the exit doors slid open
The guard didn't care: He was just
another cog in the wheel of big business.
"I can't believe that," I
fumed in the parking lot. "Like I'm going to steal a water
"Calm down, Mom," my son
"It's like a police state. It's
like you're guilty and have to prove yourself innocent."
"I don't see what the big deal
And perhaps that's the scariest bit of
all of this: My son accepts that security guards posted at exits are
a normal part of doing business. We live in a culture of mistrust,
and he's OK with that.
"I'm mean, really," I
continued. "Do I look like the type of person to steal?"
"How does he know, Mom?"
He doesn't know. He doesn't know my
name or my family or my story. That is the crux of the problem: Big
businesses do not know their customers. Big businesses do not
trust their customers.
The reverse could hold true as well:
Stealing is easier (I suppose) when you're anonymous. Stealing is
easier when you can't see the direct effects of your actions. Too, a
thief may feel justified stealing from a big business, rationalizing
that such a large company wouldn't miss a water filter or an iPad, and
even if they do, they could afford to absorb the loss.
When there's a disconnect between
buyers and sellers, stealing becomes easier. When there's a
disconnect between buyers and sellers, sellers don't trust their
buyers, resorting instead to checking in on us; to carefully
monitoring our every move.
And yet...as we trust companies to do
the right thing, who is monitoring them? Who takes the time to ensure
that the companies from which we buy are using good practices? Who
asks if a company's business model includes such considerations as
the environment, the health of the world's people, and old-fashioned
honesty? Who stands at the entrance door to big business and educates
Do we educate ourselves?
Do we question why we need to filter
our water and how the pollutants got there in the first place?
We need to return to the small and
local model of business where business owners know not just the names
but the stories of their customers. We need a model where customers
know and trust and live among the people who make and sell the
products they need. We need a model of trust, where cause and effect
is obvious; where change is easy; where security guards are
unnecessary; where customer input is welcome.
Some would say this is a step back in
It is going back to a time when we made
do with less stuff; when material goods did not dictate our
happiness; going back to a time when trust prevailed.
Impossible, some may say.
I say no. Small CSAs are sprouting up
all over the country. Local residents are fighting to keep their
community stores alive. People are joining Community Exchange
Networks where they can barter goods and services, learning again to
do for themselves and each other rather then relying on big
We need to be willing to do more for
We need to want clean air and water.
We need to stop wanting to communicate
with electronic Furbys and instead wish to communicate with each
Kelly Garriott Waite on Google+
Labels: Consumerism, essay