Friday, November 3, 2017

Justifiable Homicide

When I was no more than five or six, I remember my parents taking us three kids to a little strip mall in the northwest corner of Calgary, where there was a pet store, a model shop and a Simpson's Sears.  Circa 1970.  I can see the looping letters on the side of the brick building, my first experience with a department store.  But of course, that was just a place for the uncomfortable experience of having my mom fit me for shoes and pants and stuff.  Not a place for fun.

At six, the pet store was the fascination.  Though nature shows existed on television, it was all black and white - whereas fish tanks were rich in vibrant colors, along with scurrying hamsters, snakes, spiders, lizards, puppies and kittens.

Within a few years, however, towards eight or nine, it was the model shop.  Begging my parents for three bucks for a P-38 or a model of the Missouri battleship, wishing for the unimaginable $78 box for a two-foot long model of the U.S.S. Constitution ... oh lord, how I did spend many hours fiddly bits of plastic and the smell of glue.

That little strip mall was eventually enclosed and expanded, becoming "North Hill Mall," repeatedly enlarged over the decades, revamped, reimagined ... I out-grew modelling about the time the model shop closed forever.  Video and computers became my fascination, as they did for everyone.  A first-class video arcade opened in the mall, expanded ... only to slowly diminish, then sit empty, then disappear.  A blockbuster video rental store appeared, expanded ... then diminished, sat empty and disappeared.  Technology enables, then destroys.

The mall itself is an example of that.  In 1970, Calgary had 389,000 people.  As people rolled in, filling new suburbs, indoor walk-through malls proliferated and appeared everywhere.  As the suburbs grew larger and further apart, the inner city malls lost their customers to huge, outer city box store parking lots.

North Hill mall has always been an anathema.  Placed between the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology and the University of Calgary, it has always been empty.  Except, perhaps, for a few weeks every Christmas.  There's nothing to buy there.  There's nothing to see.  There's the Sears, still the mall's anchor, but the rest of the mall is a desert of faux-fashion clothing stores, cell phone outlets and assorted crap that appears and disappears with yearly regularity.

And now, Sears Canada has officially died, amidst a flurry of corporate greed, corporate idiocy and a blatant denial that it is no longer 1970.  It has taken a long, long time for Sears to die ... but those of us in Canada who have been here to witness the event knew it was coming 35 years ago.  It only goes to show how deep the pockets were.

Sears here is dead because the owners, despite their wealth, refused to believe that technology enables, then destroys.  And most who have lived on the earth more than a few decades still haven't learned that lesson.  Everything that we know, that exists now, in the form that it exists, is already on its last legs.  In a few decades, it will all be dead, dead as video arcades and video rental shops.  Dead as video tape itself.

But don't worry, it will be replaced by something better.  It always is.

I'm happy that Sears is dead.  All that land, all that empty parking lot space, all that empty mall hallway without people in it, all those shitty shops appealing to three people a day (and I have known counter people working in the mall who would testify to those numbers), can all die forever, to be replaced by a product that arrives at my door in three or four days, and I will feel nothing.  Because that mall was ugly.  That mall served no purpose.  That mall needed to die.

Those people who just can't get this; who can't believe that their cherished nostalgic memories of model shops, pet stores and even black-and-white television; they will chafe and complain and resist the change with the last marrow in their bones ... but they won't go to the malls or buy enough pets or sustain a business still trying to keep video tape alive.  They won't hesitate to buy on the internet and fail to buy at a counter.  They will bitch, but they will carry themselves along with the changes that technology brings because it is better.  It is more interesting.  It is more fun.

The least opinion of value in the world is the one that claims that the way we used to do things was better.


Tim said...

I always want to ask, when someone pines for those "golden days of yore", what they would do if it was mandated to have things go back to the way they were. If some government body restricted access to that "damn new technology", or to "overpriced infrastructure" or told "ungrateful minorities" to shut up, would you honestly be living a better or happier life? It's not like all the problems of today would go away and you could just deal with the old problems (which all the new stuff came about to solve). That lived experience is past, and we don't get to return to some nebulous moment when "we" got to be the centre of everything.

Drain said...

Ding-dong, the witch is dead.

I laud you for your outlook. As a deeply nostalgic person, I've know the passing of time as nothing but a source of longing and I'm barely breaking into adulthood.

Now, talk to us about kids, cellphone screens and the end of human sociability. It can't all be good, right?

Jomo Rising said...

The technology has changed, from parking, walking and browsing to scrolling and clicking. I am old enough to feel guilt for browsing at the comic-book store, then buying for a third the price online. What will those feelings be like around the next technological corner?