Following hot on the heels of Black Friday, today is Cyber Monday: the day retailers try and persuade us to go online to, in the words of economist Tim Jackson, “spend money we don’t have on things we don’t need to create impressions that won’t last on people we don’t care about.” That might not be quite so true at Christmas, but is shopping really the best way of showing someone we love that we really care?
Shopping online might mean we don’t have to leave the comfort of our own home (or as is more likely to be the case, office) but what if leaving the house is the point? The value of shopping locally, or making, or mending is that they connect us to one another, the places we live and to the things we have and care for. By contrast, shopping online is passive, disconnected and not without human cost. Glimpse behind the screen for a moment and we see that our ‘hassle-free’ shopping is collected by Amazon workers on zero-hour contracts with short breaks whose every move is tracked by internal systems. In this light, reports that our shopping may soon be dropped off by drones, might at best be interpreted as a callously-timed publicity ploy designed to draw us online, and to drive Amazon workers fearing for their jobs that little bit faster round the companies cavernous warehouses.
Even if we felt comfortable with the rapid roll-back of hard-won employment rights, all that time online might provide the sugar-rush of capturing a bargain, but over time, its not doing us any good. In a 1998 study, Robert Kraut, a Professor of Human-Computer Interaction at Carnegie Mellon University, found that the more people used the web, the lonelier and more depressed they felt. After people went online for the first time, their sense of happiness and social connectedness dropped, over one to two years, dependent on how often they used the Internet. Add to that the frustration of slow internet connections and the endless vortex of internet searching, and the likelihood is that the numbing ennui of time spent online will outweigh the fleeting satisfaction of finding a bargain.
It doesn’t have to be that way. There are choices we can make about how we want to live our lives, and how we want to organise the economy. “The greatness of craft”, said Antoine de St Expury, “consists firstly in that it brings comradeship to men [sic]”. By making for ourselves, or buying from local craft makers we are much more likely to develop the social relationships that once our basic needs are met do most to improve our well-being.
However frustrating the twisted timber of humanity, it is in our relationships that we find the deepest satisfaction. Learning to make and mend, or perfecting a craft also fulfils our need to keep learning and to connect with the world around us in pleasurable ways. nef (the new economics foundation) reviewed thousands of research papers on well-being to distil five things that we can all do, each day, to improve our personal and collective well-being. The ‘five ways to well-being’ are: being active, learning, taking notice of the world around you, sharing and connecting with other people. Making or mending implies all of these.
This Cyber Monday take a little time out to make something. There are suggestions on this website, the Huffington Post has an idea or two, and even the Money Saving Expert is getting in on the act. Making doesn’t have to be complicated. Yes, it might be frustrating initially, but that is part of the process. Start by making just one thing, and we are reminded just how much more we can do for ourselves…and just how much more satisfying our economy could be.