By Joshua M. Garrin, Ph.D., ACSM-CPT, ACE-CPT, ACE-CHC
I don’t think there’s anything that can be said about the checkout line in any department store during the holiday season that would surprise you. C’mon – you know just as well as I that amid the chaos and confusion, there lies a very controlled method to everyone’s madness: Get the absolute best deal that you can get in the shortest amount of time possible. Pushing, shoving, trampling…whatever it takes…in an environment in which the rules of social conduct simply do not apply. And this year was no exception.
However, for me, there was one exception: This may have been the first year that I noticed the massive disparity between the technology “haves” and “have nots”. I seriously doubt that this is a new thing – I mean, some cavemen were able to hunt more effectively and, therefore, “have more” than others. For me, differences among people are facts of life that I tend to embrace – not use as sticks that measured self-concept. Yet, there was something pointedly disturbing about what I saw on the checkout line in Best Buy on that enlightening November day that said so much about the intersection between technology and self-esteem.
A well-dressed woman and her young son were waiting on line with a shopping cart “train” – which can be hereby defined as three shopping carts, filled to the max with the newest, most popular technological gadgetry. A PlayStation, Xbox One, Wii, Beats headphones, flat screen TV, and countless video games – you name it, it was in a cart. The boy (who looked as though he was on a major sugar high) was oooohing and ahhhhhing in amazement at the Christmas cart train. My “what kid is getting all of that stuff”? question was quickly answered when his mother said “That’s right, sweetie…Mommy LOOOOOOOOOOOOOOVES buying you your Christmas presents!” As the words “spoiled brat” ran rampantly through my mind, an antithetically different mother-son pair stood behind them on line.
This mother-son pair waited quietly on line with not nearly as many toys in their single shopping cart (I counted two…of which were far less expensive items than what was in the “train”). Compared to the other duo, these two were not nearly as well-dressed, nor were they anything like the loud, obnoxious personalities who stood in front of them. The dichotomy between the two pairs of people was so glaring: One silently said “rude/spoiled/entitled”, while the other said “polite/humble/grateful”. Even Good Boy stared at Brat Boy with a puzzled look, as if to say “You really don’t deserve $900 worth of toys.” I could just hear the Good Boy/Brat Boy dialogue ringing in my head…
Then, in a most unexpected turn of events, Brat Boy’s mother looked up after scrolling through her brand spanking new iPhone 6, turned to Good Boy’s mother and said, “Those toys are last year’s models. Better get with it, lady…”
Good Boy’s mother opened her mouth, but nothing came out. Good Boy initially said nothing, but then looked in the cart, snuggled close to his mother and said “It’s okay, Mommy. I don’t care if they’re from last year. I love these toys.”
My heart broke into about 40 million pieces. Needless to say, I was floored – as was everyone within a 10-foot radius who overheard Mean Mommy’s comment. Even the checkout clerk looked aghast. I seriously thought that what just happened only happens in the movies or at a PTA meeting.
But, like the caveman analogy, this is nothing new. Such “good kid-brat kid” and “nice mommy-mean mommy” dichotomies have existed since the beginning of time and are part of the social fabric. The difference, though, may be in the extent to which high value tech items (and the money spent on them) have not only created an “us and them” dynamic between the children, but between the parents as well. What did Nice Mommy think about all the toys bought and money spent on Brat Boy? What did she think about Mean Mommy’s comment? And even more, how did all of this affect Nice Mommy’s self-esteem? These questions just scratched the surface of how technology (and the means to purchase it) can create a divide that perhaps no bridge can span.
I couldn’t help but think about the “quantity/quality” factor and how it plays out in the lives of millions of people who can’t afford $900 (or even $100) worth of toys for their children. More than anything else, I pondered the question of whether Nice Mommy felt that the quantity of toys given to Brat Boy outweighed the quality of the love she gave to her own son. This, of course, leads to questions about how the current tech explosion impacts the extent to which we view ourselves as “capable”, “viable”, “successful” or any other word that reflects our self-concept.
On the surface, it might seem silly that someone would feel inferior due to the amount of toys that they give on Christmas. After all, “charity” – in whatever form one deems appropriate – is a fundamental tenet of the holiday season, right? Yes. But when you factor in the mind boggling amount of money that’s spent during this time of year (in combination with the endless Facebook posts that showcase what often seems like limitless spending), you have what equates to an emotional bomb that is waiting to detonate. Given the idea that every parent wants their child to be happy, such experiences can easily challenge a parent’s self-esteem during a time of year when self-worth might be measured by what is (or what isn’t) in the shopping cart.
The moral of the story is simple. While we’re enjoying the holiday season to the fullest (whatever that word means to you), be mindful of those who may not have the know-how or the resources to adapt to technology to the extent that you might. In the case of Nice Mommy, consider the idea that she may not have been someone who “couldn’t” adapt…but was perhaps someone who simply hadn’t yet adapted for what may have been a multitude of reasons. Consider how the cost of technology could inhibit access to specific devices and, thus, leave people on the further-than-nearer end of the learning curve. And more importantly, consider how your actions, as harmless as you may perceive them to be, might be viewed as offensive or hurtful to someone else. In the season of kindness and goodwill, please proceed with caution and remain sensitive to the differences that exist among all of us.