We probably ought to give more consideration to the nature of the environments where we have our most stressful collective encounters. The stress quotient of an environment certainly seems to involve more than just the number of people trying to fit in a given space. Ive been to packed sporting events where I enjoyed myself thoroughly. Ive also been on some pretty full New York subways and commuter trains that werent all that bad.
Why, then, are shopping malls so especially apt to induce a gnashing of teeth?
I would venture that the artfully manipulated spectacle of the merchandise is itself a prime factor. In my experience, most of peoples lack of consideration for one another in malls ends up being attributable to nothing more than being so overwhelmed by whats on display that they forget the folks around them.
Impulse-darters and bridal walkers alike become engrossed in a kind of consumer-goods reverie. The main difference between them is just that where impulse darters display their obliviousness to the need to navigate in a stream of other people by sudden movements--"Oh! Look at that!"--bridal walkers are more concerned with taking in everything, which means that the flood of stimulation they experience is simply too torrential to be processed at a normal walking pace.
Either way, the net effect of a malls spectacle of merchandise is to induce people to conduct themselves in a manner that we would more typically expect to find in small children. Small children dont have "crowd sense:" they dart this way and that, acting on impulses whose origins are known only to themselves; then they dawdle and meander and even sit down right in the middle of the most improbably bustling areas. For children, all of this is normal. Its just not normal for adults.
Such behavior is assiduously encouraged, though, by the people who sell us things in malls. Theyre not concerned with how were going to interact with one another; what they care about is how well interact with their merchandise. They want us to look at their wares with the kind of rapturous longing normally associated with first loves. (More often than we might care to admit, they succeed.)
Then once theyve got us grokking on the goods, theyll do just about anything to keep the experience from being interrupted. Most mall department stores, for example, have undergone design changes to keep us from readily discerning how to get back to the main mall. Forget enabling us to know where were going, or to interact with one another like mentally competent adults. Their interest is simply in pushing more stuff in our faces, in hopes well bliss out on it just a little while longer, and maybe buy more.
Im not disputing that this is an effective way to sell merchandise. But is it really any way to treat people?
© COPYRIGHT 1998 ROBERT WINTER. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.