Thursday, May 29, 2014

Online shopping, part II: what will happen to social life when more and more transactions happen online?

About 20 years ago, my Uncle Werner, who was a livestock veterinarian in a small town in Austria, told me about his maiden aunt in Vienna when he was growing up in the 1930's. She went shopping several times a day to the little stores on her block - some of them selling fruits and vegetables, some selling dry goods, some dairy, and some meat and sausage.

This was obviously not an efficient way to shop. But she wanted to get out of her tiny apartment, and the more frequently she went out, the more she saw acquaintances to chat with. Very little was sold in packages, almost everything was purchased by weight or by the piece from behind the counter, with a clerk assisting her. For instance, she might buy a quarter kilo of semolina flour, a couple apples, or a few pork chops.

My uncle contrasted this with the large groceries stores that were popping up everywhere in Austria at the time. They were about 30 years behind the US in this regard, but these stores had spread even to the small town that my aunt and uncle lived in, causing the smaller shops to go out of business. Uncle Werner felt sorry for the older people, who wouldn't be able to have friendly, convenient social interactions just by buying groceries.

And what about in this day and age? The days of the local corner shop are in the remote past, and nobody even remembers them. It's rare that you meet someone you know on a trip to the grocery store. And more and more transactions are moving online, as I wrote in my previous post.

So, how do people fulfill their basic human need for friendly social interaction? Most people get it through family, work, or school, but shopping had an important role to play in the past. I'm not a Luddite, and I enjoy shopping online, but I do believe there's something we lose when so many transactions happen online.

What is replacing the face to face aspect of shopping?  I think people will find things, because social interactions are a basic human need. But who knows what form it'll take.


Blogger Judy said...

What I love about this one, Silv, is that it looks at a basic human need we all have, a trend in society that affects us all, AND it starts with a personal story that sucks me in. This is your best one yet. Love it!!! Oh -- and so many people don't have a personal window (like you do) into another country -- so it's credible.

7:08 AM  

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