Curtis Parvin: Impersonal Consumerism in a Failing Economy
Wednesday, February 13, 2013
Gas prices are a key factor in keeping people immobile. The fluctuation in price is determining how far people are willing to travel in order to buy their goods. As a result, they are buying them online. This—in my opinion—is the start of a potentially dangerous trend if it is not kept in check.
The most obvious problem with online shopping is it’s taking jobs away from the brick-and-mortar stores of the local community, especially in Rhode Island. The Borders stores in Providence Place Mall and Garden City closed because it’s easier, cheaper and more convenient to point and click a mouse on Amazon.com. The FYE stores at University Heights and The Crossing at Smithfield were destroyed by Apple’s iTunes.
According to the Forbes list of “The World’s Most Powerful Brands”, in October 2012, Amazon.com ranked # 28 out of 100. Its brand revenue was $47 billion dollars. Borders just cannot compete with those numbers. Why pay someone to work in a store when the sales and customer traffic would continue to shift to a cheaper and more competitive online market?
The Rise of Apple
Even though Amazon.com appears to being doing a significant amount of damage to stores in shopping plazas, it is really Apple that is having the biggest impact. The aforementioned Forbes list ranked Apple #1 out of 100, with a brand revenue of $108.2 billion dollars.
iTunes appears to be a crucial factor in Apple’s success. Music has always been a universal language. Apple knows this and they have capitalized on it, making virtually any song available to you that same day. Unlike Amazon.com, you don’t have to wait days to listen to your new songs/album. There are no delivery trucks necessary, only an Internet connection.
And what about the smaller, independent “mom and pop” stores? How are they faring when giant corporations are feeling the pressure being applied by online shopping? These smaller businesses were struggling to keep up before. Now it’s really getting dire.
There is a terrific movie rental store in Rhode Island called Acme Video. According to their website they are “the last independent movie rental store in Providence.” The motto is nostalgic and seems like that should be a point of pride. However, the days of movie rental are all but gone. The days of Netflix have arrived.
A Personal Cause
When I was in college in 2005, I was taking a course called Analyzing Film and I missed a crucial screening of a movie called Battleship Potemkin, a Russian silent film, which is paramount in a young film student’s understanding of montage editing. At the time, I could only find an old, beaten-up VHS tape at Acme Video. I caught up on the assignments and ended up excelling in the class. I even became and local independent filmmaker.
Now, guess what? Battleship Potemkin is streaming instantly on Netflix. Online shopping strikes again. Are people going to pay a few dollars to “rent” only one movie at a place like Acme or are they going to spend $ 7.99 and get to watch a whole months worth of movies on Netflix? It’s simple economics.
Netflix has more than 33 million subscribers for a reason: convenience. You can enjoy more entertainment by having a PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360 stream movies and television shows right into your living room. And now that Netflix is going to air exclusive content like brand-new episodes of fan favorite TV show Arrested Development, I imagine their numbers will only continue to grow.
Because of this availability and influx of information, a dangerous trend is happening: people are seeing reflections of culture and experiencing the illusion of participation in it. Technology is turning us into passive spectators who stay indoors to be entertained by artificial electronic devices. Paddy Chayefsky said it best in his 1970’s screenplay for Network, when he has TV news anchor Howard Beale famously exclaim: “…We sit in the house, and slowly the world we are living in is getting smaller, and all we say is, 'Please, at least leave us alone in our living rooms. Let me have my toaster and my TV and my steel-belted radials and I won't say anything. Just leave us alone.'…” Now, it’s the same story, but Amazon.com, iTunes and Netflix are all within arms’ reach.
You are severing person-to-person communication by shopping online and preventing cultural growth, the spread of ideas. A virtual shopping cart is not the same thing as someone taking the time to physically walk down an isle, finding a film and say “Watch this, it changed my life. I think you’ll like it.” Buying a movie from an online retailer won’t allow you to have a dialogue with someone about life or art. You’re trading interaction for information. No “real” personal growth is happening. What could potentially be a life-changing music album, film or book purchase is just data collected for their website. It’s dehumanizing. You have become a marketing statistic they can exploit to gain more revenue in an economy with giant “WE’LL SEE” sign on it.
Curtis Parvin is a freelance writer and filmmaker. He is the president and founder of Dollar Store Productions, an independent film company concerned with telling the stories of Rhode Island and the surrounding states of New England.