Holiday shopping has been replaced by holiday clicking.
The annual tradition that once meant venturing into town and interacting with real humans, with Jack Frost nipping at your nose, now consists of a few clicks on a device from a climate controlled couch.
Last year, Amazon delivered 10 billion packages worldwide — more than the number of people on the planet. More than half of American households have an Amazon Prime membership.
We no longer buy from the store down the block, we buy from the blockchain in the cloud.
We Islanders do a lot of clicking — the weary UPS workers on the last boat to America every night can attest to that. We know many local businesses are on slim margins, especially in the off-season, but we’re busy and cybershopping saves us time and reduces our carbon footprint and saves us money, especially when we get free shipping. Right?
The convenience of the click comes with enormous hidden costs, to your privacy, to our community and to the environment.
When you shop at a local business, your purchase and tidings of joy is the end of the transaction. When you click, it’s only the beginning.
Every time you click, you give your personal information to increasing armada of data collection companies, not just Amazon and Google. To get an idea of just how many eyes are following you, go to simpleoptout.com or sift.com.
What if someone tailed you each time you made a purchase from a local business? Soon, you’d have a group following you down Main Street, silently taking notes on everything you did. To accommodate them all, you’d need to rent a tour bus to finish your holiday shopping. While you’re driving around, you’d hear them talking about you in hushed whispers, and selling the most intimate details of your life to any who wants to pay the price.
That’s essentially what happens when you click.
So much cyber-data has been collected on each of us, that we all now have a secret consumer score. These scores determine what type of service we receive — even how long each of us is kept on hold.
Every time you click, you help refine the Artificial Intelligence that exists to separate you from your money. Apply for that fast mortgage or a loan on your phone, A.I. can even check your battery usage — apparently people who let their batteries run low are less fiscally responsible.
Orwell would be gobsmacked.
During my research for this column, Google found me an article in USA Today “How to stop your smartphone from tracking your every move.”
But when I clicked on the article, I couldn’t get access until I disabled my ad blocker.
It never ends.
When we click, our order ends up in a leviathan warehouse where the people doing the heavy lifting for the world’s richest man earn an average of $31,000 a year.
Imagine Bob Cratchit, gutting out 12 hour days with a bad back, trying to keep up with robotically controlled boxes which he must fill every 11 seconds or risk getting an automated termination letter.
Scrooge would approve.
Bob Cratchit the Amazon employee would be twice as likely to get hurt on the job than the average worker, according to data from the Occupational and Health Safety (OSHA). The Amazon “fulfillment center” in Fall River, which supplies most Martha’s Vineyard shipments, has an injury rate three times the national average.
Dickens would be gobsmacked.
Clicking also contributes to a mammoth carbon footprint. A cardboard box with packing material goes into a truck, or two, then an airplane — last year Amazon’s shipping at Baltimore-Washington International Airport eclipsed FedEx and U.P.S. combined — then to another truck or two, and in our case, a boat, then another truck. That’s a lot more carbon emission than a shopping spree with friends in the down-Island towns and a gallery in West Tisbury. Especially if you go in Louisa’s Prius.
Clicking does not always save money. My research has shown that there is an inverse relationship between fiscal restraint and the amount of holiday cheer one imbibes while cybershopping. It can also lead to questionable gift choices, like that electric spatula I knew mom would love.
It’s the experience of holiday shopping, not the efficiency, that instills the spirit of the season.
Put down the mouse, turn off the phone, and tell Alexa to mind her own damn business. Then get off the couch, change out of your robe, and shop local.
Martha’s Vineyard is graced with three walkable, historic, downtown districts, decked out for the holidays, evoking the spirit of George Bailey’s Bedford Falls. There’s a reason that story has resonated for generations— the spirit of the holidays is about giving back to the people in our lives. Which is what we do when we buy local.
When you shop in our towns, you get to see friends and interact with real people. You get to personally wish them Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah or if they’re Druids, Happy Winter Solstice.
You can bring the kids, see what gifts they’d like and even let them see what you’d like, so you don’t end up with an electric spatula.
When we buy locally our tax dollars stay in Massachusetts. Amazon charges state sales tax — but approximately half of all Amazon.com purchases are sold through third-party vendors, which don’t.
You don’t need the 606 million choices Amazon provides to find that special gift for that special someone. If you can’t find it on this Island, you’re not looking.
This Vineyard is home to an extraordinary number of skilled artisans and artists who display their wares in local shops and galleries. Jewelry makers, glass blowers, sculptors, clothiers, painters, photographers and others turn out top quality art, which is often quite affordable.
There are locally owned tackle shops, toy stores, gift shops, book stores, sporting goods stores, furniture and houseware stores. There are antique shops and vintage stores with troves of high-end recyclables.
There are also gifts of an Island experience — a kayaking adventure or a sunset sail or an hour massage.
Hardware stores are the motherlode for functional gifts. In America, people shop at cavernous warehouses where they’re more likely to see a yeti than a helpful salesperson. On the Vineyard, there are four locally owned, well-stocked and well-staffed stores, which, along with tackle stores, have the gravitational pull of a black hole and are impossible for me to leave in under an hour.
There are a bounty of homegrown gifts for our loved ones in America.
We have fishmongers who will send fresh, local seafood anywhere in the country — always a home run. Local farms churn out award-winning artisanal cheeses. “By The Sea Salt” is perfect for vegans and carnivores alike. When I visit my mother in Delaware, I am not given entry until I produce the By the Sea Salt.
So give digital dystopia a pass this holiday season.
When we shop local, we take better care of ourselves, better care of our planet and most of all, better care of our neighbors.
Just like they did in Bedford Falls.