Buying As A Social Act: The Return

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The return of old buying habits restores lost relationships due to weak digital ties

by Matheus Minella Sgarioni cover image Jamie Lorriman translated by Carolina Walliter revised by Tracy Miyake

If we can list countless advantages arising from globalization, we can also identify weaknesses, like the consolidation of standard modes of consumption that have made the act of purchasing banal, compressing its complexity. With a single click we can order products from distant countries as far away as China. Collaborative platforms let us reserve a room in New York in just minutes. We can hire someone to clean our house through specialized websites, or even sell our goods or services to strangers on the internet.

The possibilities offered by the interconnected nature of Internet dazzle us with the practicality it brings into our daily routine. Buying has never been easier, but the innovations that facilitate our life also end up isolating us. Today our purchases and consumer habits are everyday witnesses that life can be increasingly distant. We are becoming more solitary.

Alexey Kondakov
Alexey Kondakov

Maybe the best example of this trend is the new Amazon Dash Button, a button-shaped mobile device to place inside your home. The slogan “Place it. Press it. Get it.” shows how buying has become a mindless, instantaneous act. You can press the button when you are running low on any product you buy regularly, and confirm the transaction in the Amazon app. The items arrive in the mail, but sometime soon Amazon intends to deliver these goods through Prime Air.

Bellying up to the counter

As expected, the globalization of universal consumption patterns brought with it a flip side that values regionalism, and with it a return to buying habits connected to local and traditional values. Rituals like getting a haircut in the neighborhood barber shop or buying food in street markets has become a way of strengthening face-to-face interaction that was lost with the emergence of digital media.

“Instituto Chão” is a space for conscious consumption that strives for coexistence and promotion of closer relationships between suppliers, retailers and buyers of organic products – Photo: Coisos On The Go

Recovering relationships that were lost as the result of fragile and impersonal digital ties seems to be new behavior emerging in the large urban centers, since this habit never went out of style in rural communities or small towns. As we make our local and personal purchases, we can chat with our neighbors again. Now we want to know the origins of the products we consume, about the background of a brand or its manufacturing process. We want to talk and be part of this world of storytelling that is beginning to reside in the city.

Using bicycles, choosing to buy regional products, and taking up retro cultural aesthetics are some contemporary habits that express how much people value a past that was supposedly lost.

In this way, the quest for authenticity is reflected in the concept of author-consumers, and is less of an imposition from fashion and the global market.
Karen Pezolito
Karen Pezolito

A market overloaded with mass-produced goods and virtual purchasing have created a sterile and cold environment that is gradually being taken back by the human side of social interactions.

Tribo Viva is a good example of this trend; this collaborative consumption network engages its consumers to take part in transporting organic food produced in the Porto Alegre metropolitan area.

Swap meets, which encourage exchanges of goods between people without money, can be found in large cities throughout Brazil. The relationship with time, accelerated by instant access to information and the rush that sets the pace of large urban centers is making way for the serenity of a good conversation.

Mercado da Minhoca
The Minhoca Flea Market takes place monthly on Minhocão, next to Roosevelt Square in São Paulo.

Out at the street market

Escaping compulsiveness in our contact with the world is a challenge that requires some thought. Slowing down makes us realize that others are right in front of us; after all, shopping is not a solitary act. Since trade began, bargaining has been a social act, a meet-up. In some Arab cultures, the process of negotiation is very important; just accepting a suggested price without haggling can be seen as offensive.

Buyers want to learn, listen, talk, be seduced by the history of the product and embrace it as their own. Walking in the neighborhood, getting to know the bakery owner and chatting about his new products opens up a space for mediation, where exchanges between the parties are not only material but also symbolic. This tightens the bonds between citizens, who are transformed from consumers to protagonists of a shared experience.

It seems that the fog caused by the digital and commercial frenzy is beginning to burn off; the saturation of lifestyles linked to consumerist self-absorption and the airtight enclosure of shopping centers is giving rise to new forms of consumption that are more organic and participatory.

We recover the warmth of human encounters by creating genuine exchange experiences. The goods we consume become just a piece of the larger system of meanings that constitutes us as individuals belonging to a social bond. Business has increasingly shown itself to be a way of drawing people closer to each other, transcending convenience at the point of purchase and generating new community values.

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