Buy and Buy by Chris Green
When did personal computers cease to be a labour saving device? Without even looking at the Spam folder, it took nearly ten minutes daily to scroll down through the garbage in my inbox, searching for the one or two messages that might have some relevance on my life, or be from people I actually knew. Why would I be interested in insurance for a pet monkey? Who could possible need a battery powered salad spinner or a dog snood? What on earth was facial flex? And wasn’t AirportHostage9™ the same as AirportHostage8™ except that to play it you had to buy a GameBox6™ which would cost you £499? And how did the Deputy Prime Minister find time to write me so many letters? Were bitcoins legal currency? To make the task harder, deleting emails only seemed to ping some widget in Yahoo which told them I would like to receive even more dross.
Eventually it got to me. I became so weary of this daily trawl, I suggested to Kaylynn that we switch off all our devices. We could surely manage without them for a while. I expected her to resist the idea. She liked to skype and generally keep in touch, so perhaps she would regard it as a bigger sacrifice. To my surprise she agreed that it was a cracking idea and before I knew it had taken the battery out of her tablet and unplugged the router. She had been meaning to suggest to me for weeks that we do something about our absurd dependence on electronic media. The volume of unsolicited advertising and feeds on her facebook and twitter, she said, was no longer manageable. She had friended so many people, joined so many interest groups and recklessly clicked the ‘I want more stuff like this’ button so often that some days she couldn’t even keep pace with the feed. Bedeep, bedeep, bedeep went her tablet all day long, about one bedeep a second some days, as the messages landed. It was driving her nuts, she said. It was certainly driving me nuts. Even after I had changed the sound to a gentler plink, it had a grating effect on the nerves. Kaylynn said she could use the time she’d have to take up something creative, stencilling maybe or cross-stitch. It would be easier now that now that both Sonny and Cher had gone off to university. We agreed that we would look at the switchoff as an experiment and give it maybe a month to see how we got along.
Being off line took a little getting used to, as we began to realise that we had been using the internet for many things other than social media, emails and purchasing goods and services. Kaylynn and I were now unable to access our calendars, the local weather forecast, travel information, practical advice, research into a million and one topics into which we developed a sudden interest because we now had lots of time and those nagging little facts that day to day that were just out of reach because we were getting older. For the first few days it took enormous willpower to keep from plugging the wi-fi back in.
One time I caught Kaylynn looking longingly at a billboard advertising the new iphone but we got through the critical first 72 hours with our pledge intact, and once we became accustomed to the change, it was wonderful. Not having to spend all those hours sitting in front of a screen opened up a zoo of possibilities. We stopped worrying about where we were supposed to be and what we did not know. We found we had time to talk and we could stay in bed on a Sunday and make love. We could even venture out of doors and go for walks in the hills if we wanted to. I took up carpentry and in no time at all I had knocked up a kitchen table and four chairs from a pile of wood I had kicking around in the garage. I simply followed the instructions in Woodwork for Dummies, which had been an unopened Christmas gift from several years ago. We cleared out the attic and Kaylynn made a quilt form bits and pieces she found up there. We had a car boot sale, we gave the garden a birthday and began to talk about the vegetables we would grow next year. When the month was up we decided to try it for another month.
We discovered we were not alone in our thinking. Our friends, Mac and Minerva had in fact gone a step further. Minerva explained that when their PC had been crippled a few months back by a backdoor virus with a long name, they had made the decision not to replace it. Freed from the flow of information that the internet spewed out daily they found that their stress levels were greatly reduced. When their television license ran out they decided to get rid of the TV as well. The move, Minerva said, changed their perspective of what was really important. TV news focussed on matters that had little relevance to their everyday lives, its purpose to keep you anxious. The rough and tumble of party politics and the rattle and hum of celebrity indiscretions was so trivial. And, why didn’t someone decide once and for all who was the richest football team and leave it at that? The prime aim of television advertising was to make you feel inadequate. It served no useful purpose. In addition there was the growing sponsorship of programmes by CashCow and Wonga, even on the BBC. With the commercials taken away, Mac and Minerva remained blissfully unaware of new developments in consumer durables. If you really wanted something it was easy enough to find out where to get it.
While we weren’t so paranoid as to think television transmitted subliminal messages to persuade you to purchase particular products, you never knew for sure that this was not the case. What for instance was it that caused those inexplicable headaches if you watched The X Factor or Strictly Come Dancing? And why had we needed to go digital anyway if it was not to feed information back to someone somewhere. We agreed that although we would miss The Sky at Night and Gardener’s World, a switch-off was something we ought to consider.
Desperation had begun to creep in at the Treasury. Retail was flagging in all areas. No one was buying on the High Street and online sales had dropped exponentially in the last six months. Economic Secretary to the Treasury, Flannery Ainsworth felt she was at the centre of this plight. With the general election only twelve months away, there were plenty of power-hungry chinless wonders on the back benches jostling to take her place. She needed to come up with some reactionary new measures to get the country spending. She had to make the people forget that they had been made poorer over the last four years and to borrow more, and very quickly. To add to her torment, her husband had left her for a younger woman. To make matters worse the other woman had been her Personal Assistant. Flannery’s input to the Chancellor’s Autumn Statement reflected her bitterness. This consisted of a mélange of swingeing penalties for those refusing to borrow. Much of the detail of the new legislation was concealed in political doubletalk, positives emphasised as milestones, negatives buried by obfuscation.
We ignored the letters which arrived daily from our bank, in fact from a whole range of financial institutions, offering us larger and larger loans. It had come to their notice that our purchasing had dropped off recently. We were missing out we were told on this or that offer on a staggering variety of goods and services. All in Ones, Platinum Creditcards and Advanced Mastercards were suggested as payment options with a bewildering array of Cashback inducements. And we could take advantage of APR rates as low as 34.4%. We stood firm in our resolve. The bulky catalogues that hit the mat with a thud were responsibly recycled along with the fast food flyers.
There was a knock on our door. Two beefy roughnecks in navy blue fatigues stood there. They allowed me a fleeting glimpse of their identity cards and told me they were arresting me. I was handcuffed and taken without ceremony in the back of plain white van to the SummaryJustice Fiscal Centre, where I was bundled into a cell with two others. The one in the Jesus Rocks T shirt told me he had been brought in for Using a Mobile Phone that was more than Three Years Old, the one with the Peace tattoo for ‘Not Owning a Blu Ray Player’. I told them I was not sure what I had been brought in for, so many new offences seemed to have been created lately.
‘Lack of Designer Footwear. That’s a favourite,’ said Jesus Rocks.
‘It’s a shame all the charity shops were closed down,’ I said. ‘Quite often you could get a nice pair of boots in one.’
‘Not supportive of the deserving rich, I suppose,’ said Peace Tattoo. ‘The guy they just took in was arrested for Political Activism. He was selling the Big Issue outside House of Fraser.’
‘Perhaps car boots are illegal now,’ I said. ‘The sellers did all seem a bit jumpy when we had the sale recently.’
I soon discovered what my offence was. I was fined £500 for ‘Wilfully Ignoring Promotional Emails for a Period of Sixty Days’. In summing up, the Profit Enforcer informed me that I had now three times dropped below my Required Credit Limit. He stressed the gravity of the offence and reminded me in no uncertain terms that I needed to borrow more. ‘Did I not realise,’ he said, ‘that Growth depended on everyone pulling together and purchasing for Queen and Country.’ If I continued to treat good honest promotional material with disdain, it would result in a custodial sentence.
Intimidated by my surroundings, I thought it might be pushing my luck to point out to him that we the second most indebted country in the world and owed China and the emerging Tiger economies zillions and everything we bought was imported and added to this debt. Or that we were supporting billionaires paying slave wages to minority groups in the Third World to rape the planet of its precious resources. That 1300 individual billionaires have hoarded 94% of the planet’s resources, the other 7 billion were fighting over 6% of the Earth’s wealth. Instead, like the others going through the summary justice process that day, I kept quiet.
Flannery’s initiatives were popular with the party faithful and her plan to disenfranchise the unemployed was seen as a masterstroke. Perhaps the disabled could lose their votes too; they were a vociferous lot these days. Flannery’s name was even being spoken about for higher office, as the next Chancellor perhaps. It was unfortunate therefore that the press uncovered her use of Class A and Class B drugs and her abuse of prescription drugs. Suki, Benedict Ainsworth’s new love interest revealed to The Independent how Benedict’s life with Flannery had been unbearable because of her drug abuse. Her mood swings made Benedict’s life hell, she said. Several times at the Ainsworth house she herself had intercepted phonecalls from Razor, asking how much Charlie she wanted this week, or whether she wanted White Widow skunk or Northern Lights. Another time she had discovered Flannery collapsed over the toilet bowl with a needle hanging out of her arm, heroin paraphernalia all around. Once the story about her decadent life had broken, even the papers that had supported her jumped on the bandwagon. Day after day Keith Struggler in The Sun and Chelsea Grudge in The Star came up with more vicious and bizarre accounts of Flannery’s wanton debauchery. Condemnation was universal. Stories of wild s and m parties and international drug deals made her position at the Treasury untenable.
Flannery had for some time been viewed by some within the party as a moderate. With a matter of months to go to the election and the economy still flatlining, her departure paved the way for former hedge fund manager, Quentin Thief, who was immoderate in the extreme. His view was that it was immoral to have any savings at all when you could be borrowing. If the banks did not make interest on your debt, how were they to survive, for heaven’s sake. The proletariat had a duty to support the banks. Nothing could have prepared the country for Quentin Thief’s draconian package of measures to force people to spend. Everyone’s accounts were scrutinised by a colossal team of monetary police to ensure that loans were being taken out and purchases were made. The expression ‘short sharp shock’ was reclaimed with harsh new prisons built around the country to accommodate defaulters.
We remained unrepentant and did not switch our computers back on, and as we no longer watched TV, all we knew regarding the new legislation was hearsay. But a matter of days later the hired thugs were at the door to arrest Kaylynn. It was her turn for Summary Justice, they said, restraining her. She was charged with Cancelling Credit Cards in Times of Austerity. She was sentenced to 28 days in prison. As if this wasn’t bad enough, all the prisons were full beyond capacity and the construction schedule for the new prisons was being compromised by the number of construction workers being held in custody. Kaylynn was taken to a converted minesweeper moored off the North East coast of Scotland where they allowed no visitors.
By way of protest against Kaylynn’s sentence, I took a tram to the High Street and passed by forty two shops without setting foot in a single one. I dodged the uniformed monkeys trying to corral me into FastBucks and KwikKash, then I crossed over and passed the thirty nine shops on the other side, through the square past the jugglers, clowns and fire-eaters. Surely they would be arrested soon for some black-market transgression. And finally, without paying the toll, I stormed into the hallowed arcade, past its Jerusalem of flashing ATM machines and glitzy pilgrimage of supershoppers. Batteries of LED video walls spewed out a miscellany of competing promotions for a glittering catalogue of top end luxury items. Buy Now! Sale! Sale! Offers! Offers! Save £200. Save £300. Only £699. Only £499. Save! Buy! Lowest Ever Prices. Buy Now Pay Later. Credit Available.
I left without buying anything. Foolish I know, as this meant I would not be able to present the necessary Proof of Purchases to take the tram on its four mile journey back home. Also the banks of cameras on each of the outlets would have recorded my non-compliance and relayed the information to Quentin Thief’s vigilant team of fiscal spies. I realise it could not be considered much of a stand compared to the anti-globalisation protests that you heard so little about, but you have to start the fight back against the commandments of capitalism somewhere. Maybe next time I could bring a gun and start shooting, like they do across the pond.
© Chris Green 2015: All rights reserved