I love shopping online as much as the next guy or gal. The convenience factor is undeniable. A click here, a click there, and before you know it a packet arrives at your doorstep. You don't miss a step – you don't have to interrupt your daily routine or interact with a single human being. However, my beef with online shopping is that it poses the same threat social media does long-term: It makes us anti-social.
Whereas social media users are often desperate to receive "likes" from friends and family while deliberately avoiding face-to-face interaction, online shoppers are motivated by convenience and crowd avoidance. Both lead to anti-social behavior – one intimately and the other publicly.
According to a study conducted by Kaspersky Lab among 16,750 participants, "social media users are interacting less face-to-face than in the past because of this newfound ability to constantly communicate and stay in touch online. In the study, researchers found that about one-third of people communicate less with their parents (31 percent), partners (23 percent), children (33 percent) and friends (35 percent) because they can simply follow them on social media." As you can see, social media is having the exact opposite effect of what was intended. It was supposed to bring us all closer together. Instead, it's become a hindrance to relationships because we tend to avoid real-life conversations. We can no longer cope with real-life scenarios that are unedited because social media allows us to make our lives appear better than they actually are – fiction is the new nonfiction.
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When it comes to online shopping, Fortune.com recently reported that the valuation of Amazon has over taken Wal-Mart, Costco, Macy's, Target and Kohl's combined. Their success is attributed to both new investors and fewer people shopping in their brick-and-mortar competitors. You might be saying, Carl, get with the times! Trust me, I get it. We're living during a technological renaissance – the sky's the limit. Nonetheless, we can't throw caution to the wind. I'm doubtful that any of us will boast about how many social media posts we wrote while lying on our death bed. Likewise, none of us will brag about the $3 or the car ride we saved by purchasing a product on Amazon as opposed to Wal-Mart or our local Ma and Pop store. At the end of the day, all that will matter is the time you invested in others and the time they invested in you.
In other words, avoiding real-life human interaction robs you of the opportunity to impact someone's life for the better and vice-versa. That isn't to say that every interaction will be positive. Life is hard. People can be mean. However, we don't grow by avoiding people; we grow by loving them the way Christ loves us. That's hard to do online.
I'm an introvert by nature, but for some odd reason I've always enjoyed people watching, particularly during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. I love everything about Black Friday – the chaos, the deals, observing family members shop and laugh together, getting that coveted parking spot, the interaction with cashiers, the quick little nod of hello when your eyes accidentally connect with a total stranger who probably isn't as a cordial all year long. But what I enjoy most is the satisfaction that I've purchased the presents that will make my family members feel loved and special. Coincidentally, I understand that the other shoppers are gaining the same satisfaction by buying for their loved ones. Usually, unless I'm purchasing a gift card, I strike up small-talk with the store employee that's helping me out or checking me out. Sometimes they're unfriendly, but most times I'm shocked at how much people are willing to open up and share some of their personal story. You can't get that by shopping online! By the time they've completed my transaction I have the small satisfaction of knowing that I've helped retain the clerk's job and hopefully made his or her day a little brighter.
Essentially, brick-and-mortar shopping isn't just about shopping; it's about connecting with people. We can gain "likes" on our social media platforms, but we can't gain true friendships. We can shop online for the sake of convenience or avoiding crowds, but at what costs? What if it's at the expense of a divine appointment, where God gives us an opportunity to hear the struggles of a cashier so that we can be the one to offer a word of hope and encouragement at just the right time?
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How do we grow together as a society if we never connect? We can't.