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« Elsewhere | Main | The Word (and World) Made Flesch »

October 01, 2004

One-Click Junkie

Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --

I don't generally seem to be someone who wrestles with addictions. I guess this is fortunate, although I do sometimes wish I were more compulsive than I am; perhaps then I'd be an interesting person. But no such luck. Food? I don't have much trouble staying, if not slim, then at least not-fat. My alcohol limit is two drinks a day, but only because at 50 anything beyond that flattens me. (Ah, the aging process.) Drug-taking became a thing of the past when the body announced that it couldn't take the strain any longer. The smalltown Republican in me dislikes throwing money away on anything as dumb as gambling. As for sex: I confess that I don't understand the whole "sex-addict" thing, do you? I mean, don't these people need their eight hours of shuteye afterwards? I certainly do. Yes, I surf the Web 'way too much -- but at least I manage to pass a few links along to fellow blogfans.

But there's one temptation that I now realize has become a problem: buying media-things, especially from Amazon. Hello, my name is Michael Blowhard, and I have a One-Click Addiction. What a high it is: the hunt for just the right DVD/CD/book ... Spotting what you need ... And, click! -- bagging your game. I'll read it! I'll watch it! I'll listen to it! I swear I will!

It got pretty bad. It got to where I was receiving three or even four packages a week from Amazon. I'm in no financial danger -- those small-town Republican genes aren't about to let me take anything resembling a financial risk. But the tortured, inward shame of it ... The looks the doorman would give me as he handed over yet another package ... The heaps of unread books and unlistened-to CDs ... It got to where I was hiding Amazon boxes from The Wife, opening them and hurrying them out to the trash before she knew they'd arrived.

So I'm going cold turkey. Boom, whap, just like that: I've vowed to make no media purchases whatsoever for an entire month. No music, no books, no movies, not even a magazine, dammit. If I'm going to read, I'm going to read something I already own. Likewise with music and movies.

Will I prove to have character enough? So far I'm five days into my new life, and I've worked out a few good ways to cope. Avoiding book, music and magazine stores has been a help. Amazon's tougher; I've almost succumbed a couple of times while surfing Amazon. But before I hit the One-Click button, I did manage to catch myself -- good for me! Hey, I've come up with a clever way of managing the lure of Amazon, I think. Instead of buying something that I've tracked down, I now put it in my Amazon Wish List. That way, I can still get the thrill of the hunt, even while avoiding making an actual purchase. It's like drinking 7-Up at a party, or going on a photo safari.

Three and a half weeks yet to go. Wish me luck. And yes, I'm doing my best to take it one day at a time.

Incidentally, does it seem to anyone else that a big part of the personal experience of general economic growth is wrestling with new temptations against which you've never had the chance to develop defenses? Yes, of course Amazon's One-Click feature is wonderfully convenient. On the other hand, with One-Click in my life, I'm stuck spending energy resisting the temptation to use it -- something that, prior to its introduction, I never had to do before. In other words, energy that was once mine to do with as I saw fit is now being spent contending with something I didn't ask for in the first place. I don't know about you, but I'd like to see this kind of energy-and-emotional expenditure factored into economic-well-being formulas.

Another question for the Nobelists to ponder. One of the reasons I moved to NYC was to get near the great bookstores and the great movie theaters. (Yes, kids, there really was a time when you had to go somewhere specific -- in real space -- if you wanted to buy a book or watch a movie. And imagine this: many books and movies weren't easy to get hold of.) Well, what with Amazon, much of that great big reason for my being in the place where I have worked for decades to make a life has crumbled beneath me. Instead of walking around Manhattan, feeling self-satisfied and thinking, "Hey, it's worth all the sacrifices," these days I'm scratching my head and thinking, "Why do I put up with it?"

Is Amazon a groovy improvement in a general, overall, GDP-ish kind of sense? Sure, yeah, I guess, like it matters to me. And I do enjoy and use Amazon. But it isn't as if Amazon's existence 1) hasn't got me contending with unasked-for new temptations, and 2) hasn't got me wrestling with Deep Life Questions I'd really rather not have to confront.

Do you guys have any media or art addictions? And what kinds of tricks have you developed for managing them?



posted by Michael at October 1, 2004


Spread over 4 years, I have spent at least $8000 CAD on books, new and used, 99% of them non-fiction of academic variety (management, science, religion, philosophy, and spirituality, oh and self-improvement). (That's $5800 USD.)

Amazon sent me an unwanted mug on a Thanksgiving day as a valued customer. Indigo (Canadian version of BN) sends me numerous discount coupons.

I calculate that I have about 700 books, of which I read about 200 so far. I read about 40 to 50 books a year, so that means I have at least 10 years worth of books to read in my house now.

When I realize those facts, I stopped cold turkey - I stopped going to used bookstores. What really upset me was that many of the books were already available in the public library (i.e. Michel Foucault, even in the original French for I live in Montreal).

I bought them during stressful times at work and basically used bookshopping therapy to survive. Now I feel like selling them, even unread, because I am much better now thanks to a new job, but the puritanical reader in me says that's a waste so I am trying to read them all.

It was easy to quit buying them once I realized how little time I had for reading, and how it is much more important to manifest what I have read than to just accumulate more and more knowledge.

p.s. I have not tallied up how much I have spent on seminars (martial arts and psychology) for fear that it might make me a total hermit, unable to venture out in the world because I had spent so much on airfares, lodging and seminar fees! And that's not even counting the 40% exchange rate that I have to endure whenever I travelled to US...

Posted by: Bob Yu on October 1, 2004 3:29 PM

Ah, Michael. I can certainly relate. I like your "wish list" idea, but I have another one that might let you have your cake and read/watch/listen to it, too.

EBAY, my friend. Books, movies and CDs, sometimes new, always in tip-top shape go for a fraction of their retail price on EBAY. Paul Johnson's $40 ART book? $8 bucks. Whole paperback lots (10-12 books)with classics to round out the library? $10 bucks.

One EBAY score a week can come out to the same amount of quan as 1 amazon purchase a month.

Give it a'll get ya high.

As for the "Hey why do I need to be in NYC when you can get Amazon and NETFLIX in Fargo (or Key West for that matter)?" I've had similar feelings lately...

Posted by: The Bizness on October 1, 2004 5:48 PM

"The Bizness" --

Isn't the point here to discourage Michael from continuing his habit? Most people I know who use eBay are compulsive about it, as it's far worse than Amazon, since you have to hunt down the items and then have the whole secondary issue of outbidding other people, determining your own maximum bid, etc.

Posted by: . on October 1, 2004 5:55 PM

It's not the buying, it's the getting-stuff-in-the-mail that gets ya.

Even as a kid, I'd send in the Kenner proofs of purhase and wait for my Evil Emperor or Death Star Play Set. (And what a hunk of junk that was!) Back then it was "Allow six to eight weeks for delivery", a lifetime, really. Now it's four days and I'm getting antsy. Then the package arrives - the luscious yellow of manila, the tender brown of corrugated - and you rip it open and try to guess whether it's the CD or the DVD or, best of all, something you've completely forgotten about having ordered.

I shouldn't be talking this way in front of an addict, should I.

My name is Brian and I'm a One-Click Addict.

Maybe I should wrap stuff and mail it to myself? Extra bubblewrap!

I sometimes daydream about killing someone just so they'll put me in prison and I can catch up on my reading.

Posted by: Brian on October 1, 2004 6:18 PM

One of the things I do with Amazon is that I don't actually buy anything. I put it on my amazon wish list and later on I go back through and decide whether or not I really want anything. It helps.

Mmmm... ebay.....

Posted by: lindenen on October 1, 2004 8:56 PM

Guilty here of buying stuff (unnecessary stuff) from clothing catalogs. The good news is you can return the stuff, or better yet, exchange it for similar priced stuff, thereby continuing to feed the addiction at low cost.

The Territory Ahead catalog, is mouth watering.

Posted by: ricpic on October 2, 2004 10:11 AM

I read this as I ready to head out to the Friends of the Fort Worth Library sale, where I will load up on all sorts of books that will most likely never have their pages fingered, much less my eyes upon them. Ahhh, but they look so good on my bookshelves, and they are like the promised dessert after the diet. But first, I must clean out last year's bagging from my bookcase to make room for the new guys! The game's afoot, Watson, do not tarry or all the good stuff will be gone.

Posted by: Cowtown Pattie on October 2, 2004 10:37 AM

Sounds like we're all in need of interventions and 12-Step programs.

A question? It seems normal, if you're fond of something (clothes, books), that you'll be hauling home some new finds and moving out some stale product, and that in the midst of that'll be some things you never really got around to. What's the harm?

But how to know when you've crossed the line from goofy self-enjoyment to ruinous looniness? It's absorbing too many brain cells, too much time, too much money ... I don't know about you, but when I'm hot on the heels of a wonderful new thing, I lose all perspective. I imagine that this new book/movie/CD/whatever is really going to do it for me, whatever I imagine that will be. So I hit the One-Click button again. I suppose at such moments I'm like the drunk who says, OK, this is the last one, and goes on saying that and drinking year after year.

How do you know when it's gone a little too far?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on October 2, 2004 10:51 AM

It got pretty bad. [...] I'm in no financial danger -- those small-town Republican genes aren't about to let me take anything resembling a financial risk.

You're a fraud, son. You're no REAL junkie, as the above attests. Only when you flirt with putting it all on the line have you achieved true junkiedom.

How do you know when it's gone a little too far?

See immediately above.


Posted by: A.C. Douglas on October 2, 2004 6:49 PM

Here's a great satirical webpage for addicts, including those addicted to 12-step programs!

Posted by: winifer skattebol on October 2, 2004 9:50 PM

Uh-huh. I sorted out my classical CDs a couple of weeks ago. I had about 60 or 70 that I had bought but never or barely listened to. I put them in a pile and thought "great, now I can experience new music for months and it won't cost me a penny". This weekend, I sneaked a bagful of CDs from the second hand shop onto the pile while my girlfriend wasn't looking.

Glad I'm not the only one.

Posted by: Alan Little on October 4, 2004 7:31 AM

The Amazon "wish list" is great. All the thrill of shopping without the actual purchase. Plus, it gives you a chance to decide if you actually want said item. It also gives me a place to record books that I want to read but plan to wait until they are out in paperback. I don't need a hardcover copy of Simon Sebag Montefiore's bio of Stalin lying around the house.

Posted by: C. S. Froning on October 4, 2004 11:32 AM

Re.: "How do you know it's gone too far?"
1) Your alphabetical sort of the "Fiction" group results in a bookshelf in the bathroom with authors DeVries, Peter to Durrell, Lawrence, before the alphabet starts its way to the attic.
2) At the office, if the UPS guy delivered an Amazon box, the receiving staff doesn't bother to read the addressee; they know it's for you.
3) Your daughter, a year away from college, realizes those cd's you constantly talk about and receive are the investable kind.
4) The percentage of books read to books possessed hit a high of 90% back in your twenties. You're in your fifties and 20% would look great...if it were true.
5) Taking a week's worth of vacation just to sort out the book/cd mess in your bedroom and perhaps read a book or two is becoming a dire necessity.

Posted by: DarkoV on October 4, 2004 11:59 AM

I agree with DarkoV's number 5. My hubby laughed at me when I took a weekend to catalogue my books on my computer. But it was a dire necessity. I'd actually bought several books more than once because I'd forgotten that I had bought them and also forgot to read them.

Posted by: Thandi on October 4, 2004 1:28 PM

Until you can download great food, I'd stay in NY.

Posted by: sac on October 4, 2004 4:56 PM

I read Michael's piece with the pain of recognition. I am irredeemably hooked on, well, everything and my one-bedroom apartment is a testament to that horror.

My living room has three 6' high shelving units -- one with books, one with DVDs, one with CDs -- along with a coffee table drowning in magazines, more CDs and comic books. (Kindly step over the short towers of books on the floor).

In the bedroom, two more tall bookcases and a tall, thin tower of CDs. One of the bookcases has piles of books stacked on top of it, with a smaller pile on the floor by the foot of the bed. The nighttable usually holds a couple of books and some magazines.

There's a small bookshelf of recipie volumes in the kitchen and a few CDs stacked on the little shelf in the bathroom.

In short, it's all so very very sad! My only coping mechanism has been to occasionally experience what I call a 'zen flash' and to then start carting older stuff down to the used shops. Of course, I tend to trade instead of getting cash back.

I need help.

Posted by: Scott Dagostino on October 6, 2004 12:15 PM

OMG. I just overindulged last night-I HATE Borders Books. and I don't have your small town republican self control, either. (I am one of the fools with low savings and excess spending mentioned above).

My weakness is architecture and travel books: Renzo Piano monograph and an Insight Guide to Tuscanny.

Posted by: Brian Miller on October 7, 2004 11:58 AM

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