Computer sale illuminates a wealth of problems


Maggie OlsonA few weeks ago, I saw an advertisement in the Dragon Digest: iMacs – $30 each.

I heard its siren song, and I responded.

I dislike shopping, especially crazy, crowded sales. I’ve never been to a Black Friday sale, but like many people, I’ve been shocked at reports of mayhem, violence and even deaths as crowds of shoppers swarm toward half-priced toasters.

Some people like this type of shopping situation for “the thrill of the hunt,” and it’s easy to rant about consumerism and American greed, but there’s another issue here: income inequality.

Think of the wealthiest person you know. How likely is that person to go out at 1 a.m. in minus 17 degrees and wait in the library lobby for six hours to buy a used, older-model, potentially-flawed computer for $30?

How likely are they to sell that $30 computer on Craigslist for a small profit?

On Jan. 21, I arrived at the library lobby around 6 a.m.; two hours before the sale was scheduled to start. There were 34 people ahead of me in line. Some of them had been there since 1 a.m.

The small library entrance crowded to bursting; almost 70 people crammed in, and more were literally left out in the cold. Not long before the library doors opened at 7:30 a.m., I heard someone shout, “No one else can come in. You guys gotta wait outside.”

It was minus 17 degrees. Some people waited.

By the time the sale began, dozens more people had arrived. Some of the things I heard in line made my head spin:

“I’m going to laugh at everybody behind me when I get mine.”

“They’re letting people take two! That’s not fair!”

“They’re letting people take two! Here. Here’s another $30. Get two if you can.”

“I’m going to keep one, and then sell the other one on Craigslist.”

Though I had gone there to buy a gift for a relative, I began thinking I’d like to get an extra one for myself, too. But I already have a laptop, and I don’t even like Macs.

It would be ridiculous to talk about people buying iMacs as “impoverished.” Clearly, everyone in line at least had a home with electricity. But I would venture to guess most people there were a lot closer to poverty than they were to “the wealthy,” whom no one dares to call “upper class.”

As the income gap continues to widen, there seems to be an irrepressible urge to be slightly less badly off than someone in one’s peer group.

This results in the exploitation of the part of the “middle class,” who will never verbally admit they are “lower middle class.”

A Black Friday-type sale offers the chance to acquire an otherwise unaffordable item, and society vilifies anyone who reaches for it.

I reached and got an iMac, and when I got home, I read a study in the LA Times that said, “The 85 richest people on earth have the same amount of wealth as the bottom half of the population.”

I am aware that I have a better standard of living than most people in all of human history, but the obscenity of this fact gives a whole new meaning to the phrase “how the other half lives.”

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