Saturday 17 December 2011

Uncomfortable truth about an everyday event


I go to a supermarket to buy a few things. I zip between rows of shelves (or are they columns?), trying to avoid uniformed sales persons trying to sell me things I don't need. But that's impossible. Not the zipping, but the avoiding of sales persons. There are too many of them and some of them are in plain clothes. Even if I do manage to avoid them using tact, there is bound to be at least one item on my shopping list that I cannot find by myself - simply because there's something about supermarket air that makes my brain go numb. So, I ask the sales person where I can find a bottle of the brand of juice that I'd bought last week. I had really liked it to the level of  being addicted enough to add it to my shopping list. The sales person starts looking, rather lazily, in the very same shelf where I've already looked. I know it isn't there. That's why I asked the sales person, hoping that they have some stocked in some secret cellar somewhere. But there never is a secret cellar, is there? So, that bottle of juice - they probably stopped making it, or the supermarket stopped stocking it. 

I move on to the next item on my list. But the problem is, I am, juiceless, in the middle of the juice section and the next item on my list belongs in the laundry section and there's no simple way of finding the shortest path from juice to laundry. I have to pass through rows of items that might or might not be on my list. There's no avoiding that. So, I navigate my large empty cart begging for pardon as I dash against similarly lost fellow shoppers and completely by accident, spot the shelf holding the hundred thousand varieties of chips. I know for sure that I want to avoid the chips. So, I make a u-turn, dash against an avid seeker of chips, excuse myself and escape. Or so I think. 

By now, I'm slowly losing track of what it was that I'd been looking for, but I am still confident. My trusted list comes to the rescue. Laundry - that's where I need to get. And realizing that I need to stay focussed, I increase my speed. Shelf upon shelf of things flash by. My mind takes note of everything. The rice that is somewhere down there in my list, the toothpaste on page 2. Now, I am faced with a choice. Either stop and pick up the items in no particular order, as I pass them, or stay focussed and head for laundry. I am still energetic, so I think I can beat the system. I'll do both, I say - pick up things as I pass by them until I hit laundry and tick off items smartly from the list. The problem though is that the supermarket is designed with one thing in mind - to pick the money out of my pocket and the supermarket is bigger than me.  

Let's look at the two options carefully. If I pick things up as I pass by them, after a shelf or two, it will seem as though every item on the shelf is on my list, unless I check every item that I pass by against my list - which is impractical and tiring. On the other hand, if I head straight for laundry, when I get to the next item on the list, I will need to repeat the hunt, passing by the zillion shelves - at greater speed now, as I realize that my cart is still pretty much empty, my list is still long and it's getting dark outside. Now, what I am attempting - to combine the two strategies to beat the system, is exactly how the supermarket wants me to think. Unless I am filled with performance enhancing chemicals, my running between the shelves, looking up and down my list and focussing on the thing I want, all under the gaze of bright lights and much breathed air will drain my energy and gradually turn me into a compliant shopper.

Shopping, if you really think about it, is mostly about obedience.

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