Recently I sent a text to a friend. It was brief — I thought he’d be busy, and although I wanted to tell him something, there was no urgency to it: “Hey, could you give me a call when you get a minute?”
A little while later, I picked up the phone to check if he’d called even though the device was sitting on the desk right in front of me. He had called but the phone hadn’t rung or buzzed or vibrated. Not only did he call, he texted: “Just did! It’s your turn; give me a call when you are able.” The whole time, my phone was a paperweight. I was vexed; I did a hard reboot and it started to function again.
Several days later, I’d been expecting to hear from work; there was something I needed to check before the paper went to press. I began to get concerned as the clock moved closer to deadline, because when I checked the phone, there was nothing. I decided to reboot. In a few minutes, all manner of messages flowed in, including the email I was expecting (sent more than an hour earlier) and subsequent texts sent after I had not responded. This time, I was embarrassed about leaving my boss hanging. The next day, I apologized, but he was conciliatory. “Yeah, you have to reboot these things from time to time,” he said.
That wasn’t really acceptable to me, so I ordered a new phone. Rather, I seized the opportunity to order a new phone. I got on the internet, selected a few options, and the next day a Fed Ex driver showed up with a box containing a new phone. It’s almost too easy.
Last week, I received a T-shirt. “Stay at home tour 2020” reads the caption. The image is a twist on the old audiotape advertisement where the sound from speakers is blowing the listener away. This has a Grateful Dead iconography; the speakers are pelting a skeleton with roses. Eventually I remembered having ordered it weeks ago, and that it had been backordered. It was an impulse purchase; I have only a vague recollection of ordering it.
Turns out I’m not alone. Many of us are finding ourselves buying stuff online that we don’t really need. A friend of mine had a post on Facebook showing off a new rug. “This stay-in virus has taken its toll on me,” she wrote. “I have been on an Overstock rug sale buying spree. Somebody stop me!” On neighborhood pages, posts about lost dogs have been overtaken by conversations about misdelivered packages. It seems everyone is getting a package, looking for a package, or sending a package back.
It makes sense. The pandemic has made shopaholics out of people who would rather have a root canal than go to the mall. Savvy marketers had already figured out that confinement and isolation is good for business. I learned that from my mother.
In her later years, Mother’s mobility declined and she wasn’t able to get out and about as easily. At some point, it seemed she had something new each time I visited. “Oh, I got that from QVC,” she’d say, showing off a George Foreman Grill, or a silver necklace. Mother loved QVC. She’d often comment about how the operators were so nice, and knew her name. We would kid her about it, saying the call center workers would see her number and say, “Rachael is on line 3. She probably wants the Dice-O-Matic that’s up now.”
After Mother died, my sisters found a box in a closet full of QVC knick-knacks – many unopened. It was puzzling until I compared notes with one of my sister’s classmates after her own mother passed, leaving her own bounty of QVC goodies behind. “She was at home by herself a lot,” the classmate told me. “I think she liked to visit with them.”
The difference is that housebound seniors see something they like on television, and then call a phone center where the agent almost certainly has the history of their relationship with the company in front of them, and visit with callers as if they lived in the neighborhood. “How’d your son like the bug zapper, Miz Juanita? Oh, he liked it so much he wants another for the front porch? I can take care of that right here…”
As the pandemic drags on, we begin to notice how many things have been affected, and how deeply. We get a chance to take a long, unvarnished look at ourselves, and why we do the things we do.
And what about all those things we’ve ordered and realize we didn’t want or need? What’ll we do with that?
Christmas is coming, and surely someone on your list needs a Deadhead T-shirt.
Bill Perkins is editorial page editor of The Dothan Eagle. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
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