Did Hamlet Shop, Do You Suppose?

He looks confused. I tilt my head, silently inviting him to speak. There is a pause as he works it out.

“We went so you could buy a necklace like Gram’s.”

It’s not really a question, but I answer anyway. “That’s right, but they were too heavy for me.”

Another pause, and I know we haven’t got to the nub of it yet.

“But Gram bought a dress.”

And there we have it: the source of the confusion. From a teenaged boy’s perspective, this perfectly ordinary excursion in the mid-1990s was one of life’s mysteries. We went to buy something for one person, and came home with something completely different for another person. How the heck did that happen?

By shopping.

Shopping: the online dictionaries are largely in accord about what it means.

“To examine goods or services with intent to buy.” Merriam-Webster
“To visit shops and stores for purchasing or examining goods.” Dictionary
“To visit stores in search of merchandise or bargains. To look for something with the intention of acquiring it.” Free Dictionary

Well, yes. But there’s a little more to it than that, isn’t there?

Sure, shopping can be a straightforward activity of “looking for something with the intention of acquiring it,” whether that activity involves months of research preceding a major purchase like a vehicle, or nothing more onerous than running into an office supplies store for a box of paperclips. But shopping can also mean “deliberately putting oneself in a shop or store where there is a good chance of encountering something that one will suddenly be inspired to acquire, notwithstanding having no prior intention to buy such a thing.”

“You’re everything I never knew I always wanted.”
– Alex Whitman to Isabel Fuentes, Fools Rush In

For years, I couldn’t walk into an antiques store without coming home with some little thing I never knew I always wanted. Dishes. Vases. Tins. Penguin salt-and-pepper shakers.  And so, if I really didn’t want to spend my money that way, I didn’t go into antiques stores.

It’s been a while since I had to monitor that sort of spending: ages change, and stages with them. These days, though, I have a new shopping challenge that involves not money, but time.

Every day I get an email from an aggregating service with links to articles on a staggering range of topics. Racism. Sexism. Environmentalism. Political arguments. Music history. Scientific discoveries. Medical breakthroughs. Self development. Community development. International development. Product management. Technology reviews. Travel tips. Airplane identification tips (seriously). Every day.

Many of these articles are interesting; some are compelling; one or two, here and there, may be life changing. (I mean, airplane identification tips!) All provide information that I had no prior intention of acquiring, or perspectives that I had no prior intention of considering.  All try to inspire me to spend my time on something I never knew I always wanted to read.  They are the intellectual equivalent of shopping.

And here’s my challenge. With limited time to spend, what balance should I strike between “buying” information and perspectives that I think I need, thereby staying focused and productive, and “shopping” for inspiring surprises, with the attendant potential for distraction and diversion?

To buy or to shop: Who knew that would be the question?

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4 Comments

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4 Responses to Did Hamlet Shop, Do You Suppose?

  1. Jim Taylor

    “To buy or not to buy, that is the question. Whether ’tis better in the end to buy the slings and arrows of outrageous war games, or to purchase charms against them, and by opposing spend them…” I’m reminded of the saying of a former moderator of the United Church: “I can be bought, therefore I am.”
    More seriously, what should you do with limited time? It seems to me futile to simply reinforce your existing opinions, but equally futile to spend all your time examining contrary opinions. There has to be a balance, somewhere.
    Jim T

    • Isabel Gibson

      Jim T – Yes, there’s the whole business of remaining open to challenge, and a balance is good there, I think. Too little, and we get to thinking we have the whole truth; too much, and we get to thinking that there is no truth. I wonder also about intellectual diversions – how to strike the “right” balance there. I stopped allocating time to golf because I want that time for hiking, birdwatching, photography, and writing. But I can spend a lot of time reading idle bits that come my way on the internet, without necessarily feeling the loss of time quite so acutely as when I was swinging a club.

  2. The only way I could stop reading my favorite “Harper’s-type” political/sociological/arts blog– I would bring it up many times a day — was for the author to stop blogging it (after 10 years). My fix was taken away at the source like a death. I am now down to one other good (addictive) one. Yes, I have more time, even looked up The 100 Best Blogs on Google and was going through them, but nothing filled the gap so I read more books and do more work. It’s sad, but I did rally.

    • Isabel Gibson

      Barbara – Maybe that’s the answer – find a source you like (whether one person or an aggregation), mine that, and let the rest flow around you. (Glad you rallied.)