Why I Hate Shopping

I’ve never been very good at spending money. I’m lucky enough to have always had money to spend, but it often ends up sitting in the bank, unused. It’s not that I don’t know what I want or need to spend it on – for a geek, I have remarkably few shiny gadgets – but simply that I don’t like shopping.

When I was little, I used to like choosing things like digital watches, or my parents’ new fridge or washing machine. I would go round all the shops, making notes on the candidates to be bought – I found some of them when I was clearing out a cupboard recently. I think it was my attempt to introduce a kind of scientific order into the chaos that is modern shopping – I guess you could call it the “Money Supermarket” method.

My least favourite kind of shopping is shoe shopping, closely followed by clothes shopping, both of which utterly defy this “scientific” analysis – other than price, there aren’t any variables you can line up in a comparison grid. A pair of shoes either fits or not, as does a pair of trousers (judging by the stock in the shops, I must be the skinniest man in Eastbourne…); the rest is down to personal opinion – the problem being that my opinion when looking at a t-shirt in a shop is generally “oh, look, it’s a t-shirt”, which doesn’t get me very far.

I have managed by a series of flukes never to buy a mobile phone, and consequently baffle my friends by always having out-dated and under-powered phones; and what kind of a geek uses his netbook as his only PC for 7 months simply because he hasn’t got round to buying or building a replacement desktop? For one thing, there are simply too many variables to analyse, and I don’t have the enthusiasm I had when I was 13 to sit there tabulating them all. But on top of that, the sheer quantity of hype and advertising around mobile phones makes me want to run away – the very idea of walking into Phones4U gives me the shudders, such is the unintended effect of their relentless marketing.

I have a general theory that everything in life is ultimately about compromise (well, probably not quite everything; I’m willing to compromise on that point…), and modern shopping is no exception. Generally, unless you are the richest person in the world, you will not be able to order something tailor-made to your exact requirements; but (in the Western / Developed World at least) you’ll probably have a fair few options to choose from. But that means there’s going to be pros and cons to weigh up, and ultimately you have to decide which compromise you like best or hate least.

Trying to turn all that hype, and all those compromises into a quantifiable, logical system – which is, most of the time, how my mind works – is tiring, and ultimately futile: eventually, you just have to plump for something, and live with it. Which is why I still haven’t bought a smartphone.


  1. Thom Brown

    I wouldn’t worry as you’re not really missing out here. Ultimately smartphones are designed entirely for the “ooo… look at that” factor. They’re toys with aspirational and materialistic desires of consumers in mind (which is what Apple now base their entire business on). I admittedly bought an Android phone with more power in it than I’d even need, with an ultra-clear screen, accelerometer, compass and all that rubbish in it. In fact the advert for my phone harps on about how clear the screen is. Since when was that a major complaint of mobile phone owners? What do I use it for? Well I installed about 20 games on it, all visually impressive or addictive, but after a month I grew tired of them.

    So now I have an expensive phone. I use it to make calls, send occasional text messages (like 1 a week), get the odd reminder of an event (which could just be gone with Google calendar via SMS), and check the status of flights. Okay, so I check my Twitter feed when I’m away too and maybe use GPS if I’m in the country (as data outside the UK is bloody expensive), but all the extra functionality is kind of wasted. The functionality it promises, it delivers, except it fails to mention how unlikely you are to use it. When will I buy my next phone? When they’ve got an oct-core processor? When they have a screen resolution higher than a HD television? When it can take underwater photos? I hope not. I want my next phone to be bought because my current phone will ultimately start failing.

    Slight digression alert…. This is exactly how the iPad 2 is marketed. You will see the advert displaying a sonar scan of a baby still in the womb. Okay, so it plays videos, like every other tablet. Kids can trace the number 2 with their finger, like that’s actually a common use. You can see something which looks like guitar strings and pluck them. If you’re serious enough about music, I doubt you’d end up using an app to make anything worthwhile, and as for most people, it’s really not something I can see them using. Another clip shows someone resizing a graph in a document. And that’s what it does best… resizing images and graphs in documents, not writing documents themselves. A later clip shows the dissection of a brain, the layers of which you can traverse through. Hmm… yes I want an iPad so I can do that for 5 seconds then never do it again.

    Their message is, “Look how clever this is”. My question is, “Yes, but what would *I* use it for?” To me, the iPad is, and always has been a solution in search of a problem. And the only people I know who actually own one either play Angry Birds on it, watch a film while travelling, or browse the internet lazily in front of the TV. That’s a bloody expensive for such minor conveniences.

    Ultimately, if you’ve got what you need, you’re doing well.

  2. Deb

    Yeah, I’m not that keen on shopping. (Is it those children with awkward feet who needed shoes and didn’t want to buy them?!)
    I have a really nice mobile phone.. It’s the standard Nokia from the last century, and apart from needing a new battery once, has caused me no problems at all.
    But then I’m far too old to be any kind of techie or geek.
    I can resist feminine things too, – high heeled shoes and decorated long nails leap to mind as top undesirables – we young women of the 60s and 70s sigh as we see younger generations didn’t get the message that it’s not necessary give in to (male) consumerism. As for having to have the right label…Sigh.
    I’m not going to help the economy with my buying habits I’m afraid.

  3. Rowan

    Well, I certainly agree that the iPad is a solution in search of a problem. A netbook with a touchscreen (and a slide/swivel keyboard) running a “normal” OS would seem to make much more sense. But what do I know? Phil’s got one, he swans about the office with it like a foreman with a clipboard. ;)

    In general, though, I’ve nothing against buying gadgets as toys, as long as people admit that’s what they are – it’s exactly what I did with my netbook, although due to luck and laziness it’s currently more than that. If somebody shows me their new smartphone or tablet and says “look at my shiny new toy”, I admire it; if they say “look at this incredibly useful thing I just bought, it’s changed my life”, I smile, nod, and move on…

    As for clothes, I think there should be shops selling 3 types of shoes, and 3 types of trousers, but in a wide variety of sizes – not just one linear scale, but width, length, etc. If I was a millionaire, I’d pay someone to measure every aspect of my feet and make me perfectly fitting trainers and walking boots.

  4. Rowan

    PS: Sorry, Phil! You know I love you really, right?

  5. Seb

    The one thing that all the late Steve Jobs fronted technologies (and many others) had in common surely, was that they were solutions in search of problems. “It isn’t the consumers’ job to know what they want.” That’s really because if technology is truly new it is opening up opportunities for behaviour which we haven’t had before; you can’t know you want to play video games, dtp your own documents, airbrush your own photos, put your entire music collection in your pocket etc. – or rather you can want it in the same way you might want a flying car or telepathy helmet – but you can only consume what is offered: it’s not necessarily what you would have placed at the top of your wish list.

    I’ve had various gadgets that have – if not changed my life – definitely made it more bearable :-) These include (in no particular order) a digital watch that lasted me 30 years and woke me up on countless mornings, an ipod which I listen to podcasts on which makes commuting less of a grind, a BBC Microcomputer on which I cut my teeth at programming, a satnav, a mobile phone which can handle e-mails, 2 compact cameras (pre and post-digital).

    Some just replaced older technologies, but a fair few were enough of a revolutionary step forward that I really couldn’t have predicted how I would use them. Maybe the need was there but I certainly wouldn’t have couched it in those terms: I might have thought “Wouldn’t it be nice to have a portable radio that recorded programmes so you could listen to them any time.” Which is the net result of podcasts on my ipod.

    The ipad (or any other tablet) is no less useful than the mp3 player or mobile phone and considerably more useful than the personal computer was until the web took off. The question we should ask of it is not “What end application would I put this to?” but rather “What value is there for me in interacting with the information universe anywhere I need something bigger than a phone and more mobile than a laptop?” For me, that value falls into the £100 range so it’ll have to wait. For a medical consultant in a busy hospital I imagine they are life changing but then so are comfortable shoes (which is neatly circular given your last point above).

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