Why is capitalism so God damn noisy?
It was the first time I went to a shopping mall in six months.
I was living on a tiny island during the pandemic. For months, I had not seen cars, motorbikes and certainly no shopping malls. Now, as I walked into the basement of the Epicentrum Shopping Mall in Lombok, Indonesia, I found myself amazed by just how bright and beautiful the space was.
The first shop I saw was a Korean-makeup brand. So I mindlessly walked in.
Two things happen consequently.
- Wow…it is so shiny! I couldn’t help but STARE in wonder at the production that was this shop – Lights! Mirrors! Stunningly designed products all stacked up neatly!
- Ergh, my face though… I was transfixed by my reflection in the omnipresent mirrors in the shop. I hadn’t looked so closely or deeply at my face for a long time. I became so acutely aware of every ‘flaw’ and ‘blemish’.
The more I looked into the mirror… the more inadequate I felt.
My skin seemed so dry, so uneven and so unacceptable compared to the store attendants. As a woman approached me, smiling through her face mask, I found myself backing out without even turning my body around.
No. No. No. No thank you!
I quickly left the Korean make-up shop.
My appearance didn’t seem like an issue… until I got into the mall.
As I walked through the mall, I noticed everyone was so well dressed. The women matched their headscarves with their face masks with their hand bags and high heels.
I nervously patted my unruly hair and zipped up my jacket.
As I just took the ferry from Gili Trawangan, the bottom of my pants were still wet. Sand still clung to the ends of my ankle. I had rented a motor bike and rode straight through this island for 45 minutes – with my hair loose under the stinky helmet. Now my hair was twice its size. I didn’t look at ‘Mall Ready’ and it was painfully obvious.
The sounds seemed to get louder and louder
I returned to my initial objective – which was to buy a pair of shoes to wear to the gym. I had no idea where the shoes were…this mall was so massive. All the signage was in Bahasa Indonesian. I kept getting lost.
I found myself in the food court. Well, I am kinda hungry… so, I stopped to get some cheese bubble tea and Roti-o (sidenote: Goodness me, I LOVE the food courts of the Far-East).
I didn’t notice it at first…but the sounds seemed to get louder and louder. There was music on the overhead radio. It was being interrupted by the sound of a children’s train which snaked through the diners. Every now and then, the attendants were screaming out loud for patrons to pick up their orders.
Wow. This was noisy.
Exhausted before I could shop
Finally, I made it to the shoe shop. Before I stepped in, I realized just how tired I was feeling. When faced with an entire shop of good-looking affordable shoes – I had no idea what to pick. Do I go with the Skechers Go Walk? Nike Airs? Reebok?
I was feeling anxious. I just wanted to leave. And at the same time, I wondered when I would be able to return to this shop? What if we went into lockdown again and the boats were stopped again? Best to make a decision now.
So, I started the process of picking up shoes, trying them on and putting them back. It was dull. In the end, I just picked any pair of shoes that fit and paid for it.
I almost ran from the shop.
I found a spot where I could sit cross legged. I plugged into my usual recording of Goenkar leading a one-hour Vipassana session on my headphones. I felt the chaos of the cacophony leave me.
I felt it all disappear.
I began to come back to myself.
Peace on the island
When I returned to the tiny island that evening, I felt relief. I found my trusty bright yellow bicycle at the harbor and pedaled to a local warung.
I bought a coconut and sat by the beach.
The sounds were soothing. Waves. Children giggling, laughing and playing. The barrage of noise from the shopping mall was over.
I felt so much more at peace.
Why did I have such a dramatic response to the mall?
I was genuinely surprised at my experience in this mall.
After all, growing up in Dubai…I consider myself at home in shopping malls of any kind. In Dubai, we went to the mall often and for almost everything. For dinner, to catch a movie or to get a drink and to also shop. Why was this mall in Indonesia making me feel so off kilter?
I had questions.
Why is capitalism so God damn noisy?
If you’ve ever been on a diet – you know just how SWEET that first cookie tastes. Being on this tiny island during the pandemic, was the equivalent of a Capitalism-diet.
Going back to the mall – the High Altar of Capitalism – was a bite of a cookie. And perhaps that is what affected me so greatly. Just like you feel when you eat that cookie and think: “Woah…was it always so sweet?”
I had to ask myself – “Woah…were shopping malls always this noisy and chaotic?”
Capitalism is exhausting.
I don’t think it is a coincidence that shopping malls are an assault on all of your senses. There is the smell of freshly made food, there is noise in the air. There is a sense of excitement. I get that.
There is also a sense of not being grounded. You leave your center. You leave your core. In this state – the question has to be asked – how can we make a well-informed unintentional purchase?
I think we’ve all felt it.The communal energy of all the shoppers and staff. The bright lights. The feeling of being amongst so many others. There is something so deeply ungrounding. Deeply upsetting. Deeply confounding.
Consumerism is so immersive – perhaps too immersive.
All of this left me with questions:
What would a less chaotic scene look like?
What does it mean to be intentional about the way you shop?
Intentional shopping… would mean there would be rational consideration. Do I really need this thing? Do I want it? Can I afford it? And then there would be a full body consent. A deep listening. Asking the heart and allowing it to answer. IS this needed?
Shopping Malls are neither good or bad
You might sense in me a bitter snobbery toward shopping malls. You’d be right. I wrote this article while I was still on the island; high on my non-materialistic righteousness.
However, the truth is we live in a material world. Shopping is a way to access these materials. Malls can help us make better decisions to improve our lives. Being able to navigate a shopping mall or supermarket is a key life skill. It is important to be able to understand what is on offer, how to get a good deal and even to find joy in shopping. To have an anxiety attack because you are trying to buy shoes isn’t the goal.
BUT – the red flags show up when ‘shopping’ becomes a way to avoid life, to change your state of being and feeling and to entertain yourself.
It is a slippery slope when the list of things you think you ‘need’ keep increasing because you live in a world which is constantly selling you things, services and experiences.
It is deeply concerning when you are being manipulated and influenced by immersive marketing experiences, bright lights and noise.
It is an issue when you aren’t even aware of leaving your sense of self in the process of shopping. This is my point.
So – if there is one thing I want to leave you with, it is this.
It has never been more important to bring critical and balanced thought to the point-of-sale. Bring your awareness to how you shop, where you shop and what is influencing your decisions.
If you are feeling tired, exhausted, distracted or confused in a shopping environment – take a break.
Ask yourself – do I really need this?
Take a break. Come back later.