There have been times in my life when I felt strange. A stranger in a strange land. I felt this way a lot when I achieved consciousness in my middle teens. I loved my family and where I grew up but I felt disassociated, like I didn’t belong.
I have traveled around the world and have, on many occasions, felt the same way. Last week, due to circumstances beyond my control, I went to a mall. Not just any mall. It was the “big nice mall where the rich people go” in Nashville. From the moment I arrived, until I left with my newly installed cell phone battery some three hours later, I felt as if I were a voyeur from another time and place.
Going to a mall isn’t that strange to me. I’ve gone to malls since malls became a thing in my youth. I am, however, an early adapter to technology and have moved almost all of my shopping and bill-paying life to the online world. In the last several days, on several different occasions, I have thought of something I needed and with a few clicks of my mouse a vast yet invisible machine was galvanized to action and I shortly had the thing in hand. On the other end of the spectrum, my wife and I love patronizing local businesses and restaurants and cafes. They are, for the most part, authentic places run by authentic people in our neighborhood. We often make the conscious decision to patronize these businesses because we know it is good for our neighborhood and hour community.
I guess it has been a while since I wandered aimlessly around a mall because I was gobsmacked by the opulence of it … the vastness … the amazing beauty of it … chrome and glass and elegant wood and beautiful tiles. It was an afternoon of a weekday so I guess it should come as no surprise that there weren’t many people there, except in the restaurants and the phone store where my phone was undergoing emergency surgery. That probably contributed to my vague sense of unease.
I then understood why a recent report estimated that 20 to 25 percent of malls in America will close in the next 5 years. No wonder. The mall felt like a temple erected to the minor gods of consumption. But these minor gods have fallen out of favor. Now we worship the minor gods of convenience and efficiency. If I need blue jeans or shoes I don’t need them to be artfully arranged on a shelf crafted of the finest old growth timber hauled out of a rain forest in South America. I felt uncomfortable with the unapologetic sense of luxury, of exclusivity. There was also a sense of waste. A false sense of choice. I had a feeling that is just the opposite of the feeling I have when I walk into a little store or cafe and am greeted by name by the owner. It was nothing like the feeling I had while walking through Rome, or Florence, or Lianyungang, or Bangalore or any of the actual temples I have visited around the world.
The disruptions and upheavals in our world and our economy will continue and a New World will be born. Whether or not it will be a new and better New World will be up to us. Because all of this is being done by humans it will be imperfect. Some good. Some bad. I honestly don’t think anybody will miss the malls.