Tuesday, 9 February 2021

Bins. Recycling. Comfort shopping. We are being watched.

It’s bin day. Our refuse collection works on a three week cycle: week 1 - grey bin for general rubbish; week 2 - blue bin for paper and cardboard and, oddly enough, tetra-pack cartons such as fruit juice comes in; week 3 - brown bin for glass and plastic and tin cans and tinfoil and green bin for garden refuse and compostable rubbish. Green bins used to be emptied weekly, which suited me fine as a smallish compostable bin filled up just right. Then during the first lockdown they stopped all the recycling and everything went in the grey bin, emptied weekly. Eventually they started recycling properly again but I had to ask for a larger green bin as my kitchen compostables were overflowing if only collected once every three weeks. That’s what happens when you eat fresh vegetables and fruit instead of tinned or frozen!

Anyway, today is bin day, blue bin day. Out for a brisk walk first thing this morning - I am still not running on the slippery pavements - I saw blue bins overflowing with cardboard packaging. People are receiving an awful lot of parcels. So much so that there is apparently a shortage of cardboard. Suddenly I feel quite restrained in my online shopping. 

A news report recently told of an increase in savings. Because so many people are working from home they are not spending money on the daily commute. Because they are not going out in the evenings and weekends they are not spending much money on clothes. They are not buying lunches from city centre places ... but many are ordering takeaways (pizza boxes one factor contributing to the increase in packaging in the blue bins) so maybe they are not saving money that way. People’s savings may have increased but many people are still buying stuff online like mad. 

According to this article it’s a form of comfort shopping, which is rather like comfort eating. You feel a bit down, or maybe a little bored and so you have a snack or, in this case, do some shopping online and get a little hit of dopamine! It’s rather worrying that so many people really don’t know what to do with themselves when they have to stay at home. Goodness! There are umpteen advice networks telling you how to structure your day and suggesting new and interesting things to do with yourself.

One of the rather surreal aspects of the shopping pandemic is the way the internet and social media follow our activities and know when regular shoppers go online. They not only know what to advertise to us but when is the best time to do so. One interviewee talked about this happening ... 

“... usually when I am brushing my teeth, perched on the side of my bath, clicking “add to cart” in the final moments before I go to bed. It turns out that companies know when I am weak – and this is when they target me. “Companies will know what kind of content you engage with at different times during the day,” says PK Kannan, a marketing expert at the University of Maryland. Marketers even analyse the circadian rhythms of their users and schedule their content at times when they are particularly receptive to buying things online.

Banner ads that follow consumers across devices trap us in a “sales funnel”. “It’s scary when you look for something online and it pops up everywhere,” says Wiseman. “It’s relentless.” The only way to exit the funnel is by purchasing the item. “These are highly specialised techniques that use behaviour retargeting on consumers,” says Kannan. “You’ve shown interest, so I will follow you wherever you go with this same ad.” Khatun is being stalked by a Chloé handbag. “It follows me everywhere,” she says. “It’s very tempting. I tell myself I will be good, but I probably will cave.””

Of course, one remedy is not to look at your phone while you brush your teeth but the mobile phone has become the one thing that accompanies us just about everywhere we go. That’s how so many end up falling into toilets! And even we old fogeys have experienced that little moment of panic when you set off out for a walk and realise, ten minutes down the road, that your phone is still on the kitchen table!

When George Orwell warned that “Big Brother is watching you!” I wonder if he realised Big Brother would be used in this way to make is spend money. We must be strong. We must not be brainwashed. We must resist the temptation to buy stuff we neither need nor really want and end up with a pile of unopened parcels in the spare room! And so we all swear to get rid of one old item of clothing for each new one we order online. The new item arrives and it proves really hard to decide what to throw out - we want to keep everything! Besides, it’s hard to recycle clothing at the moment as charity shops are not accepting donations!

Modern day dilemmas!

Okay! Here’s a little bit of Michael Rosen to make us smile wryly:

“Dear Dominic

See me! I go out there and tell the world what's going on with jabs, viruses, mutations, variants as if I'm Mr hot shot epidemiologist. I'm Winston raising the nation's morale: never has so much been lost by so many thanks to so few. (Is that it?)

Sub cervix


Life goes on. Stay safe and well, everyone!

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