The world wide web has many positive and negative attributes not the least of which, both positive and negative, is eliminating my need and desire to ever visit brick and mortar stores again.
I remember growing up in a time when the Mall was the touchstone of all social and pop cultural advancement. As an early teen I could easily wander from checking out the freaky animals at the pet store to meeting a friend who worked at the record store (they were still called record stores then) to checking out the t-shirt shack, food court, music sections of department stores, book stores and basically wander around aimlessly for hours. This was all, of course, before driving was an option and before I was permitted to hop the bus downtown.
Upon gaining the bus permission, my browsing became refined. The downtown core held five record shops worth checking out on a weekly basis with at least two bookstores and two comic book shops. There were also a couple of television stores that carried the latest video game cartridges for Atari, Intellivision, Colecovision, and, a couple of years later, Commodore 64 software. This was the first time in my life I could feel ahead of the curve on things. This was the time I was reading magazines on video games, musical instruments, and collectibles. I knew when things were coming out a month in advance and could save up money for something I really wanted because I'd read the advance reviews.
The ability to drive and a growing experience at the specialized shops allowed me to winnow down my browsing even further. I knew the best stores to maintain my comic book collection, my sports card collection, my video game addiction and even had "frequent buyer" discounts on all the LPs and cassettes I bought. Each Friday night would be a comic and record run. Each Saturday would be sports cards and video games. I had it down to a system, and the only thing that killed the system was my burgeoning knowledge.
You see, I am, by nature, a collector. I have to get parts three and four if I've got parts one and two. I purchased comic book series far after they ever remained good just for the completist in me. I would buy every album a band put out if I liked the first one I bought. I would sometimes avoid a comic book series or novel series altogether if I'd missed the first one or two installments. I liked to get in on the ground floor... it was for this reason I eschewed coming in late to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comics and instead turned to the radical underground stylings of the Adolescent Radioactive Blackbelt Hamsters.
But knowledge is a costly thing. I soon found I could not keep up with everything I wanted to maintain this completist lifestyle and, as such, started to give up things altogether. I stopped buying comic books. I gave up hockey cards. I radically slowed down book buying. I focused on music and, while trying to keep up with growing PC options, the costs really put them out of my league. Besides, I had already learned how to tape over a notch in a 5.25" floppy in order to copy and recopy to my heart's content.
I moved into a time period where the only interest in any mall was books (more as a passing interest than a purchase) and music. And even then, the mp3 scene was bursting out with Napster and Gnutella clients. I had moved my browsing from windows and aisles onto web and ftp sites. I, essentially, forsook the mall.
I have the city's only worthwhile mall, by all accounts, a five minute walk from my house and I haven't been there in two years except to meet a friend at a restaurant inside. I remember renewing my license plate stickers two years ago at a kiosk just inside the doorway. I don't know or care to know any of the stores contained therein except for the ones with their illuminated signs emblazoned on the outside. I have been shopping online for over a decade. I remember pooling friends together to buy 500 blank CD-Rs and 1000 CD-R sleeves to get a discount rate. I research, discover, and comparison shop without leaving the comforts of home.
When I walk into the Brick & Mortar store these days, I feel out of place. I see people wandering around aimlessly looking at things and often feel that I should be doing so as well. I'll walk up and down the aisles looking at things I know about, don't want, and wonder why anyone would ever that price for it. When a sales clerk asks if I need help, I'll play the game and say, "No, I'm just looking." I don't want to make the clerks feel bad by letting them in on the fact that their jobs have become meaningless to me unless they have to unlock a display case. I try to make my Brick & Mortar experiences as long as possible to soak in the ritual that accompanies so many of the hoards that still shuffle aimlessly between the shelves.
In reality, but for checkout lines and slow debit machines, I should be out of any store in three minutes or less. I don't want the extended warranty. I don't want to upgrade to the "next" level. I don't want any advice from a clerk who's extent of technological knowledge is capped at chat clients and X-Box Live. CompUSA and Circuit City are victims of me and those like me who now have the tool to do the research, the comparison and often the purchase itself. Gone are the days of trusting a sales clerk to tell you if something is good. I've got a world of reviewers at my disposal and an endless supply of merchants willing to ship worldwide to my door.
Yesterday was Boxing Day in Canada, kind of like Black Friday in the US, and I haven't been there for years to take part. Even the online specials are almost meaningless. Unless I feel like a visceral cattle call in my near future, don't ever expect to see me rubbernecking the Brick & Mortars again. I've evolved.