Editor’s Note: For most of us, the wide world of technology is a wormhole of dubious trends with a side of jargon soup. If it’s not a bombardment of startups and tech trends (minimum viable product, Big Data, billion dollar IPO!) then it’s unrelenting feature mongering (Smart Everything! Siri!). What’s a level-headed guy with a few bucks in his pocket supposed to do? We’ve got an answer, and it’s not a ?+Option+Esc. Welcome to Decrypted, a new weekly commentary about tech’s place in the real world. We’ll spend some weeks demystifying and others criticizing, but it’ll all be in plain english. So take off your headphones, settle in for something longer than 140 characters and prepare to wise up.
In 2008, just about everything related to the U.S. economy either fell apart, or nearly did. Ever since, we’ve been patching it all back together, slowly but surely turning things around and making progress. At some point during this march, it was decided that Black Friday was to be a day in name alone. Instead of retail shops opening early on the Friday following Thanksgiving, these same shops would now be open on Thanksgiving proper. Oh, and countries that don’t even celebrate Thanksgiving are now taking the liberty of cashing in on the consumeristic mindset in other parts of the globe.
The exact moment of where we went wrong doesn’t even matter. Let’s just admit that we’ve gone very, very wrong.
A warped holiday
There’s something strangely perverse about using a holiday grounded on the premise of being grateful for what one has to go and procure more of what we don’t need. Every year, it seems as if at least one person is killed — as in, killed — during Black Friday shopping mayhem. Countless more are injured, and millions have their stress levels heightened to places that no certified doctor would ever recommend.
And for what? $300 off of your fourth television? A $50 savings on a game console that you’ve already lived a year without?
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ESPN’s Colin Cowherd, an otherwise polarizing figure, puts it very well: “Say it out loud”, he pleads. When you utter aloud the reasoning for blowing off your family, completely disregarding the sanctity of a day off, and encouraging a cycle of behavior that leads K-Mart to threaten its employees with joblessness for not working on a U.S. holiday… well, good luck justifying that.
America’s consumer debt continues to skyrocket to unparalleled heights. We’re spending more than we make, and in almost every circumstance, that’s a recipe for financial ruin. Certainly so when those funds are being spent on depreciating doodads from Walmart. And yet, we’re taking one of the few public holidays that we’re given and spending it by creating more debt, more tension and more clutter.
Using what we’ve created
Even if you’re going to toot the capitalist horn and argue that consumer spending is what lubricates the American economic engine, we should still go about this more intelligently. Every store that would even consider opening its doors on Thanksgiving has an online presence, and if it doesn’t, it’s probably (A) a local mom-and-pop store that’s shunning a day of sales in exchange for a much-needed day of rest or (B) unworthy of your money. Plenty of companies offer online deals parallel with in-store promotions, but seriously, why not just move everything online? Even stores that are hungry for foot traffic could offer further discounts for picking items up once doors reopen after Thanksgiving. It’s not rocket science.
The Internet has enabled a sales cycle that never ends, yet throngs of employees are being asked to man shelves and registers on a day when even the people coming in to shop should be somewhere else. Anywhere else. I have a tough time thinking of anything more nonessential than K-Mart being open on Thanksgiving day. Hell, I’d argue that banks and delivery services are far more essential, and you can bet both of those industries are going dormant for 24 hours once November 27th rolls around.
It’s fine to take pride in working hard, but it’s better to take pride in working smart.
If retail shops made a point to direct eager shoppers to their website for deals on Thanksgiving, at least the humans behind the scenes would be able to catch their breath. This is Moore’s Law exemplified: The Internet should allow Earthlings to collectively rest on Thanksgiving day while lifeless servers archive orders for future processing. Is this not why we bothered to create such technological marvels in the first place?
You need a break
A recent report from the U.S. Travel Association shows that Americans “took the least amount of vacation time in almost four decades last year”, essentially forfeiting billions of dollars of owed time. America is also the only industrialized nation in the known universe that has no mandated vacation time, and a list of public holidays that’s embarrassingly short. It’s fine to take pride in working hard, but it’s better to take pride in working smart.
Studies have shown over and over again that deliberate breaks from the workplace actually promote better, faster, more creative work once back in the office. You’re only fooling yourself by trying to clock in 365 out of 365 possible days in a year. It’s baffling to think an American would place so little value on a public holiday that they would willingly rise before dawn and set out to spend their hard-earned money on items that are marginally discounted and entirely unnecessary. You don’t need that discounted Slingbox. What you need is 24 hours to breathe fresh air, reflect on what makes life worth living, and if you so choose, do absolutely nothing.
I realize that not everyone has a family worth visiting. Some folks aren’t even fond of turkey. But even if you spend Thanksgiving meditating, exercising, sleeping, or swiping left in Tinder, it’s better than showing up at a store that shouldn’t be open in the first place.