The Future of Christmas Presents – feat. BladeRunner?

I was leaving the mall after lunch with a business associate. I was going to stop and buy a gift, something specific, probably a 10-minute detour before heading back to the office.

I mentioned it to my associate, who laughed and said he – HE – was already finished doing his Christmas shopping, had done it all online, everything had been delivered, wrapped, Done.

I thought for a moment about working my way back to the shop I had in mind, not even sure that they sold what I wanted. I pictured my high heels slipping and sliding on the mall floor, and then the ice as I returned to my car, much like a less graceful version of Bambi.

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I didn’t end up shopping, just incase you were wondering. Instead I went straight back to the office and made my purchase online. I had to go up to $35 to get free shipping, but the gift improved vastly with the upgrade. Maybe it still took me half and hour, but at least I didn’t have to worry about those stupid slippery tiles at the mall  (sidenote: why do they do that even MAKE tiles like that? People walk on tiles; they should be slip-proof).

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My progeny keeps sending me links to things they want – easy peasy. Amazon seems to have my credit card number on file; I don’t even have to get up to get my wallet out of bag.

I remember dutifully Christmas shopping in my early twenties, aware that since I was making money I should be gifting the people in my life. I was never one of those people who started Christmas shopping in January, but I usually started early-ish – mid-to-late October. This was before anyone except academic eggheads knew about the internet and they only used it to source books and research.

I went once a week after work downtown and worked a steady trek between the two landmark department stores. I had a list. At that time I gave everyone presents – family, friends, co-workers. While very careful with how much money I spent on gifts. I developed a self-indulgent shopping habit that lasted about 30 years, and usually came home with many more things for myself than anyone else.

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The list shortened over the years. I stopped giving friends presents after one Christmas when I sat in front of a bunch of well-intentioned, useless, meaningless items including a calico cat decoration (I am neither a calico nor cat person) and a crystal mouse, related gifts from two people who didn’t even know each other. What it said about my friendships was devastating to me – these people did not know me at all.

The next few years with friends were awkward but eventually they stopped giving me presents. I would effusively thank them and then say “But I didn’t get you anything!” enthusiastically.

Family members turned from individual gifts to and from everyone. My mother’s sunken living room became a mosh pit of wrapping paper and excitement, to a name pull. The name pull didn’t work well as it seemed we didn’t really know each other that well and some people were disappointed with the one gift they got. Then we went to a generic women’s/men’s gift, which quickly devolved into a liquor exchange. The final year there was a snowstorm and we decided we would no longer have the BIG Christmas gathering and this year we’re just meeting at a restaurant. That was the end of the family gift exchange.

As a singleton, all that is left now is my progeny. When they were growing up it was very easy to collect most of what they wanted from the grocery store – the most popular toys would be available very early and each week one would be on special, so I saved money and spread out the spending. I was a little ashamed that I did not source out quality, educational toys the way some mothers did, but I had tried in the earlier years and it was the popular stuff that got the most happy reaction so I gave up on the specialty stores – sorry local merchants – my kid was basic.

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At the height of my shopping compulsion, and before the progeny was old enough to give me gifts, as a single parent with no partner, I went out and spent a great deal of money on stuff I would have liked other people to give me. I continued this even after I had a partner because he was resolutely pathetic about picking up on any hints given, even when prefaced with the words “This would make a nice Christmas gift!” or on a list in the kitchen titled Christmas “Gifts.” So much shopping…

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There was a period when I did frequent specialty stores, right before we as a society discovered online shopping. No line ups, unique gifts. Lee Valley was a favorite, though you run out of affordable options that can function as gifts in a few years – not everyone appreciates fine tools the way they should.

My self-shopping days are pretty much over. In almost an instant I turned from shopping-my-unhappiness to forcing myself out twice a year to buy a few new seasonal clothes for work. I neither need or want stuff.

The question is – is this what is happening all over, or is it just me.

I know that online shopping is an issue for merchants, but maybe it’s not, because the mall stores are all the same as the online stores, so maybe it’s just an issue for retail workers and mall owners. Will malls eventually become like Mayan ruins or the temples of Ankar Wat, abandoned, covered with weeds and Virginia Creeper? Massive monuments to gathering places of the past, where citizens worshipped the gods of the time? Will we convert them to exercise venues, used for walking and rock climbing? Or homes for the homeless? Each person with their own cubicle. Some kind of Mad Max scenario in which punks with mohawks and skateboards see out the end times?

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I have seen smaller outlet malls in the US shut down and abandoned; grocery chains forsake large commodious buildings when another chain builds a store across the street. And the most egregious of Canadian consumer failures, huge buildings with a space where a large red circle used to be, red doors and other trim still in place, with no future use apparent.

Continuing the movie metaphor, will we hunch over our small electronics, the only light in our dark lives, BladeRunner Style, a fireplace app glowing and a pile of opened cardboard boxes growing in the corners of our multi-complex residences. Or will Black Friday continue to draw people out, will the feel of merchandise between our greedy fingers outweigh our sloth, the thrill of the hunt for Canada Goose at half price even though we have perfectly good jackets at home and the temperature never goes below freezing driving our lizard brains to thrash it out with other dinosaurs. Is Boxing Day our salvation as human beings? Will the pursuit of last Christmas’s wrapping paper keep our drive for acquisition alive, the only thing that kind of separates us from other animals?

Yeah – it’s probably just me – and that guy I had lunch with.

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