Sunday, November 18, 2007

Making Black Friday Meaningful

"Black Friday" is the popular nickname for the day after Thanksgiving. Its name derives from the old method of keeping financial books by hand in which red ink indicated loss and black ink indicated profit. Because Black Friday has traditionally kicked off the holiday shopping season, it was considered the turning point that got retailers out of the red ink of financial losses and into profit, i.e., "in the black." Research has shown that it may not be the day that consumers spend the most money, but it's generally considered the busiest shopping day of the year. Anyone who's ever endured a trek through the mall on a Black Friday will certainly agree.

However, this coming Black Friday is also the fifteenth annual "Buy Nothing Day." I've written previously about Buy Nothing Day, a movement that encourages us to pause for a mere twenty-four hours and literally buy nothing. AdBusters, the group behind Buy Nothing Day, has suggested several activities to celebrate the occasion. I think they qualify as performance art:

(1) Credit Card Cut Up - volunteers bring scissors to a mall and stand with a sign offering to cut up shoppers' credit cards;

(2) Zombie Walk - supporters wander through the mall in full zombie make-up, emulating the mindless shoppers all around them;

(3) Whirl Mart - ten individuals aimlessly push their "long, inexplicable conga line" of shopping carts through all the aisles of a large store, without making a purchase.

Is it possible to stop shopping completely for one day? Well, of course it is. And yet it's surprisingly easy to justify a quick trip to the grocery store to pick up a forgotten item or two, maybe put some gas in your car or get a haircut because surely that doesn't count.

But it does.

We are so accustomed to buying something, a product or a service, that many times it won't even register in our minds when we do it. We compartmentalize the act of "shopping" as searching for things like clothes or computers or cars. The everyday shopping we do is practically invisible, unless we're forced to notice it because of unemployment or substantial debt.

This year, I hope you'll join me in supporting Buy Nothing Day. Consider it a grand personal experiment in being an especially thoughtful consumer. Simply stop shopping for this one day and pay attention to the decision you've made, solely for the purpose of becoming aware. I also hope you'll let me know how the experience affected you. Was it inconvenient, liberating, thought-provoking?

And if you do happen to think of a little something that you want to buy that day, instead of giving in to the urge, how about considering making a donation to your favorite charity for the amount that item would have cost? Your donation, no matter how small, can help turn Buy Nothing Day into your favorite charity's much more meaningful Black Friday.

© 2007 Cynthia Friedlob

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