Let’s not dis­count hu­man touch next Nov 11, okay?

China Daily (Canada) - - BUSINESS - By NICK BEVENS

Ihad a pun­ish­ing day’s shop­ping re­cently. In less than an hour, I bought 12 liter-car­tons of milk, the same num­ber of boxes of break­fast ce­real, 10 hairy crabs, a dozen pairs of socks, a couple of packs of tur­tle food, a re­place­ment lap­top power ca­ble, and a 4-foot palm tree.

The next day it was all de­liv­ered straight tomy door, neatly packed (in­clud­ing the palm), and alive and kick­ing in the case of the crus­taceans.

Wel­come to China’s most ef­fi­cient and ex­pand­ing in­dus­try: On­line shop­ping.

When I left Ed­in­burgh, the above list might have meant a whole week­end of much blood, sweat and ir­ri­ta­tion. In Beijing, how­ever, the op­po­sites ap­ply.

I amem­bar­rassed to say, my list was all bought sit­ting in bed.

This is the ul­ti­mate in mod­ern con­ve­nience and a gold mine for the de­liv­ery and re­tail sec­tors. But I can’t help think­ing it’s be­com­ing a killer for so­ci­ety.

This week, re­tail­ers across China will no doubt be toast­ing an­other bumper Nov 11 shop­ping fes­ti­val. It’s likely to take a couple days for the dust to set­tle to find out the to­tal spend. But expectations are it will be an­other eye-wa­ter­ing tally.

Inmy view, fes­ti­vals are about min­gling with happy peo­ple, lis­ten­ing to mu­sic, en­joy­ing each other’s com­pany.

They’re not about sit­ting bog­gled in front of a PC, lap­top, tablet or mo­bile, es­sen­tially spend­ing, for the sake of spend­ing. In just five years, Nov 11 has be­come com­mer­cial­ism on a vul­gar scale— much like Christ­mas has in theWest.

In Ed­in­burgh, I lived in a part of town called Stock­bridge. There’s a 40-year-old cheese shop, a del­i­catessen, a hard­ware store, a French patis­serie, a sta­tioner, two small su­per­mar­kets, a butcher, a fresh-fish shop, even a chocolatier: All within strik­ing dis­tance of each other.

At the week­end, fam­i­lies stroll about with arm­fuls of real shop­ping bags, hav­ing con­ver­sa­tions with real neigh­bors, ac­tu­ally in­ter­act­ing with their fel­low Ed­in­burg­ers.

I fully ap­pre­ci­ate not ev­ery­one has this lux­ury of such quirky shop win­dows on their doorsteps.

Be­ing able to source thou­sands of on­line goods, con­ve­niently from home, is amaz­ing and im­pres­sive.

But have we all be­come just too used to click­ing a mouse than us­ing our own two feet to go out for a nice piece of old-fash­ioned re­tail ther­apy?

I feel we’ve al­ready got to the point that choos­ing this rather sloth­ful key­board opin­ion is a breed­ing ground for a more seden­tary and unso­cia­ble so­ci­ety.

Over the past couple of weeks, there have been a plethora of­Back totheFu­ture pre­dic­tions about what to ex­pect in the next 30 years as cin­ema fans rem­i­nisced about the 1985 movie of the same name.

A pick of the best re­vealed some fan­tas­tic ideas— but much like In­ter­net shop­ping, too many pointed at ever-re­duc­ing lev­els of face-to­face in­ter­ac­tion.

For in­stance, some pre­dicted a likely surge in on­line learn­ing, which they ar­gued could lead to uni­ver­si­ties clos­ing around the world in huge num­bers. A so­cial rite of pas­sage for mil­lions may soon be con­fined sim­ply to on­line learn­ing.

A sur­vey sug­gested a tenth of the world’s wealth­i­est com­pa­nies could be vir­tual cor­po­ra­tions within 10 to 15 years— so what might hap­pen to the sim­ple ac­tiv­ity of go­ing to work and talk­ing with col­leagues?

And what about ac­tual shops? Al­ready, mil­lions are be­ing shut­tered around the world. And those that do sur­vive, may very well be run by ar­ti­fi­cially in­tel­li­gent shop as­sis­tant ap­pli­ca­tions or ro­bots— not much chat over the counter in those.

With all th­ese con­ve­niences, the need to walk to a mar­ket of any sort, pick an item and walk home has be­come in­fre­quent.

Has it al­ready be­come too tempt­ing to just or­der the item on­line and wait for it to ar­rive?

In­doors, too, all-pur­pose ro­bots are al­ready do­ing the house­work. Sen­sors in fu­ture could also ob­vi­ate other chores, with your fridge and cup­boards pro­grammed to place or­ders for you.

I rather like not hav­ingmy life ruled by elec­tron­ics— spe­cially those I can’t look in the eye, or say hello to.

So, in­stead ofNov 11, 2016, how about “Get Off Your Pos­te­rior, and Go and Do Some­thing for Your­self” day.

Con­tact the writer at ni­cholas@chi­nadaily.com.cn

SHI YUCHENG / FOR CHINA DAILY

Two cus­tomers from Zhen­jiang, Jiangsu prov­ince, make on­line pur­chases on Tues­day, ahead of the shop­ping fes­ti­val on Nov 11.

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