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?
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?