Every year the feeling of anticipation grows stronger, the advertising gets more omniscient, and the sales start earlier. Black Friday.
It’s capitalism meets human psychology. The discounts can be huge, and the clock is ticking.
Luckily, my stingy spending habits and idealistic resistance to the perilous grip of consumerism protects me from the barrage of shopping temptations. Right?
Wrong. I’m human. So my brain has baked in the same biases for hoarding and good deals that put Jeff Bezos at the top of the food chain. And as Black Friday’s clock ticked down, my shopping cart collided with a live music experience that carried me far from today’s economics, into the trees and shadows of human emotion.
The cart: consumerism and thinking biases
Then I went into the center of Barcelona to buy my first TV. We’d always had hand-me-down televisions, and the current one was dying. Black Friday seemed like the right excuse to help Santa afford a modern TV to put under the Christmas tree.
At work, our marketing team sent out a Black Friday email. We responded to people on Twitter who were upset because their BF coupons didn’t work. And I wrote an article on the color black.
After work, I went across town to hear two husband-wife friends of mine play some music. On the metro ride, I stopped by Amazon.com to check out last minute Black Friday deals.
Amazon controls almost 50% of all online sales. They’ve become the masters of the market by catering to the instant gratification of consumption: nearly anything you can imagine delivered to your doorstep overnight. Amazon is also the master of moving people to buy what they don’t need.
And I had two unneeded desires in mind: an Echo Show and a circular power saw.
We have a 3-year-old Echo Dot in the kitchen. It’s great for asking the weather in the morning, setting timers while cooking, and streaming music. So I thought adding a small screen would give us a fun, quick reference tool for our kids to ask things like “show me a dumbo octopus” and “what does a woodpecker’s tongue look like?”
The power saw was an impulse thing. But I’ve got some old cabinet shelves I’ve wanted to repurpose, like making a stand for the new TV to conceal the cables littered about. And dads need power tools, right?
I quickly added a couple options to my shopping cart as the train arrived at Barcelona’s Sants Estació metro stop.
The experience: in Trees & Shadows
I exited the metro into a small unfamiliar plaza. Shuffling about were a number of immigrants from Africa and the Middle East. A quick reminder of the world’s diversity—skin colors, languages, and economic levels—rushed through my mind.
Google maps led me down an alley to a dilapidated wood door fronted by iron bars. I buzzed and went up the dark, humid staircase. The smell of incense and the soft glow of yellow light entered my eyes and nose as I reached the narrow landing at the top.
I took a seat in the small upstairs room along with 40 or 50 other people, all with kind faces, some talking softly. Many were friends and family of Marc and Esther, the singers, songwriters, and musicians behind this evening’s event.
Esther and Marc came out, lit candles, tuned their instruments, and humbly thanked us for coming. They talked about their time on the Canadian island of Hornby, where they had just spent the past year. Then they began sharing songs from their new Mantranima album, Trees & Shadows.
Their stories transported me along portions of their journey—moving to a remote Canadian island, raising their young daughter, adapting to a more rustic life. They chopped wood for the fire, rationed rain water stored in a roof basin, and used an outhouse behind the home when natured called.
Their music touched a chord. This song, “We Were Wild,” struck particularly deep:
Tears came to my eyes, and only the public crowd around me kept in a building flood of emotion.
It made me think of my children, and how quickly they’re growing. I thought about the finitude of life, and all the ways the wind can blow you through it. I thought about how I’m still at the same job where Marc and I once worked at together, having lots of fun creating projects like this interactive video.
Why am I working so much, striving so hard for a raise, consuming more, wanting more? Why is it so hard to just be content with the life I have now?
I took the metro home. Quiet, attentive, reflecting.
In the midsts of this emotional reflection arose a competing instinct to reach in my pocket to check if Amazon had any last minute deals. I caught myself: “What are you doing? You don’t need any of this stuff.”
The phone went back in my pocket, and some minutes later I was home.
Crying in front of the kids
I got home in time for dinner. I showed my family a few photos from the evening, and played a couple of songs I’d recorded while there. The music rushed me back to that small room, then even farther away to a bird’s-eye overview of my quickly passing life.
As I played the clip from “We Were Wild,” the flood gates opened. I couldn’t hold back the emotion that had been building, and the tears came hard.
My youngest child disappeared quickly to his room. I found him there crying. He thought there was something wrong, that I was hurt or disappointed. I told him I wasn’t at all sad, but infinitely happy at how lucky I am to have the life and family that I have. I told him it’s okay to cry, and that it’s important to get it out when you need to. Dads have feelings too.
Not long after, smiles returned, stories were read, and I tucked my kids into bed. I felt like the luckiest, most grateful dad on the planet.
And then something inside me clicked: my abandoned Amazon shopping cart.
I convinced myself that the power saw was a good investment—we’ll be able to salvage the old cabinet doors, and DIY projects are good for the kids to see and be involved in.
I decided that I didn’t need the latest tech gadget, which most likely spies on you while enriching the world’s wealthiest man. But it might give the kids easier access to knowledge, right?
So I bought the power saw. And the Echo Show. Damn self control. Consumerism may have won today’s battle, but the war for how time should be spent wages on.
I’m going to go cut some wood.