I have never been much of a window shopper. I’m more of a target-oriented buyer. I usually know when I drive to a store or a mall exactly what I’m looking for, and although I’ve been known to buy additional “found” things not on my list, I always start with knowing: knowing the goal, the store, the general price.
That’s the approach when I’m doing actual brick and mortar shopping. I am completely different when I shop on line. I may begin with a specific site and item in mind, but I wander. I click. I follow links. I get sidetracked. I end up miles from where I started, maybe with nothing, maybe with a lot more than I planned on buying. But it’s always a meandering ramble through digital space.
I find the same thing happens whether I’m looking for a shirt, a recipe, some obscure piece of information, or click on some random headline on a news site. Of course, that’s why they call it surfing. One click leads to another, leads to another, leads….
I’ll admit, I’ve spent a lot of evenings just following a trail from one link to the next, sometimes with purpose, sometimes with curiosity, but always with interest to see where I’ll land. I’ve found some of the best sites by accident. That’s the amazing thing about the internet: there’s always something more to discover, to stumble across, to appreciate. Some sites I visit often, others are a one time stop. But that’s true of real places too.
I love the personal side of the internet. It’s a technology that can isolate and separate. You don’t have to leave your home to access many things that were once available only in person. You can certainly limit your interaction with human beings…shop online, research online, bank online, make reservations online. The ever-growing ability to do for ourselves via the internet has decreased dependence on other humans in many ways.
And yet, the opposite is true too. I am an avid review reader. I rarely buy anything now without first checking out the online reviews. I read customer opinions of all types of products, restaurants, hotels; editorial reviews of books, movies, music; blogs whose writers focus on food or travel or some phase of life. You can find blogs about every subject under the sun. And most of this free and very personal opinion comes with the option to comment on the comments, to reply and have a conversation, or even multiple conversations, about the topic of the moment. How connected is that? I’ve certainly never walked around department stores quizzing other customers on their buying recommendations of a particular item in a brick and mortar store. But I can do it in a digital setting. I call that pretty personal, even if I’m not seeing the other customers face to face.
Of course, one of the great success stories of the world wide web is the social networking opportunities that abound. It seems there are never-ending opportunities to be connected. In spite of the reality that the links may be only digital…I’m in Alaska, and my Facebook friends are scattered all over the US…the relationships are real. I’ve found people I hadn’t communicated with in years.
I frequently get fixated on a particular quest and stay focused on it until I feel I’ve exhausted myself with the number of links I’m willing to investigate. (This happens a lot with recipes.) Sometimes I lose track of the original search and find I’ve veered off toward a completely new target. But that’s part of the fun too…seeing where I find myself at the end of the night. Did I find the cookie recipe I was looking for, or did I come away with the perfect pasta sauce? Did I find the out of print book I wanted, or discover that there’s a free Kindle download of some classic that is available for a mere click of the button?
Tonight I listened to a presentation on the future of electronic health records. Did you know that we are all moving toward a new age when every piece of our health information will be available across different health systems, across different technology platforms? Did you know that health care providers have to be skilled technologically as well as knowledgeable about medicine?
We’re all hunters now. Whether the hunt is for personal benefit, work related, knowledge based, or pure curiosity, every time we go online, we’re hunting. And even the digital world can be a scary place. You shouldn’t follow every link. Really. There are some frightening things and places you can visit from the comfort of your sofa.
But there’s no going back now. No, the real stores won’t go away. We’ll have a need to buy milk, and most likely, we’ll continue to do that for ourselves rather than ordering it online to be delivered to the front door. But as the world is increasingly a digital experience, there will be changes to absorb.
Happy hunting. Be careful out there. Most of all, have fun, don’t get lost, and leave yourself a breadcrumb trail to follow home.