Walking down a street and behind me, a woman says – somewhat excitedly – to her companion, “Look, there’s a Starbucks!” or “Look, there’s a Costa’s Coffee!” Their following conversation usually leads to buying some overpriced, overflavoured caffeine.
What is it about predictability that attracts us? Enough of us are old enough to remember Howard Johnson’s trademarked orange roofs, standardized menus and 28-flavours of ice cream – and Mel Brooks’ take on them with orange-roofed outhouses in Blazing Saddles. Or, as Stephen Colbert has reminded us, “There’s nothing American tourists like more than the things they can get at home.”
We know little children love repetition of the same song, same story, same movie ad nauseum [to adults, anyway].
Apparently a lot of us have never outgrown that stage of our development. Be it Starbucks, Costa’s, Trader Joe’s or IKEA, it’s a personality trait that shrewd marketers have used to elevate otherwise mediocre brands to cult status.
Just like little kids who refuse to eat something they haven’t had before – a large number of Americans refuse to venture into local mom-and-pop businesses they’ve never heard of before. They’ve been carefully conditioned to trust corporate persons rather than real persons.
Little kids absorb information at a pace we can’t begin to imagine. That favorite fairy tale or food is an unconscious way to slow down and give their brain a rest. Is today’s over-stimulated world forcing adults to do the same? If we’re living in an overstressed environment, mindless non-decision making can be a welcome respite. Mindfulness is an unknown luxury.
Am I pure here? Of course not. I’ll admit many moments of ignorance and expedience. Yes, I’ve had the odd coffee and an occasional shopping visit to one of these places. As a matter of fact, until I found out that their bread was made with the same chemicals as yoga mats, I relied on Subway for cheap, filling and easy-to-find food on long highway trips where I didn’t want to wander too far from the major road. And even though they say they’ve pulled this particular chemical, a number of experts have asked if we really want to eat imported non-seasonal veggies that look just as fresh at 6 in the evening as they did at 10 in the morning.
We can’t all be perfect. But if we give a little thought to helping the real persons living, doing business and supporting communities around us – instead of the corporate persons who siphon our money to the Caymans – we might be helping ourselves, as well.
This season, think about spending your time and money with real people, not corporate people.