Until recently, I’d never been to IKEA, mostly because of fear. I knew there would be things I wanted, but the IKEA reputation kept me away.
What I heard:
- It’s huge
- It’s a maze
- You can’t get out in less than three hours
- It’s full of people.
While I guess I need flat-pack design furniture at affordable prices, this is not the shop I want.
You know, Everything
Back when eBay was novel, I played a game with the family before a Thanksgiving dinner. As a means of introducing the idea of eBay to them, I asked each member to describe a thing they wanted that they believed would be hard to find. The sister wanted an antique printer’s box, the Mom was looking for a vintage lens, and the Dad, an electrical engineer, requested a now forgotten device that I will dub a hibblygizmo.
“Ok, so these are things you want that you believe would be hard to find, right?”
“And how would you go about finding them?”
Again, collectively, “No clue”.
I spent the next ten minutes confirming what I already knew. All of these items, however esoteric and including the hibblygizmo, were readily available as active auctions on eBay. I printed out each of the auctions and handed the paper to each member of my family, saying, “Happy Thanksgiving. You now live in a world where a shop exists that has everything.”
Unfortunately, this is also not the shop I want.
The shop I want is owned by a person I know and respect. Inside of this shop are two button-up shirts, a pair of jeans, three pens, a desk, and a small white marble polar bear. Each of these items is picked out specifically for me, and more importantly, they are items that, given my own devices, I would never choose or possibly even discover for myself.
As I walk in this shop, the proprietor sees me and grins. “Rands, I have the perfect desk for you.”
“I don’t need a desk.”
“You need this desk. It’s vintage Stow Davis. It’s walnut with solid brass and wood handles. It’s the perfect size for your Cave.”
“I don’t need a desk.”
“Stow Davis. Founded in 1879. Did you know Frank Lloyd Wright commissioned them to produce furniture in the ’30s?”
This mythical person is not going to stop until I’ve purchased this desk because this person knows me and knows that this desk is perfect for me.
I Said, Everything
We’re in a world where you can find anything you want, which is great, except when you realize there’s a lot of everything. Google was created and thrives attempting to solve the everything problem for us. Google has made it wonderfully simple to find a thing, but just because you find a thing doesn’t mean you care about it. As you stare at a PageRanked list of stuff, you have a choice:
You can sit back and be force-fed the decisions and opinions of others. Many of the people who are making these decisions are not evil. They are well-paid, well-intentioned, bright people whose publicly traded companies have built astoundingly profitable businesses building and marketing things they want you to think you need.
These people think they know you because they’ve done the math. They believe you fall into the Stow Davis-inclined IKEA-fearing writer slash surfer demographic, and that’s a strong demographic. Knowing this demographic, they can answer the question: “How can we move 72,000 more of those things on this demographic? How are we going to give the impression the mundane is unique?”
You can have an opinion. It sounds like work, but it’s really not. An opinion is not the definitive view or judgement regarding a thing; it’s you staring at that desk and saying, “You know, I like the look and the feel of those brass handles. I also like the drawers that squeak just a bit when you open them. It speaks to the character of the whole desk.”
It’s not that I want a Stow Davis desk, it’s that I want to find that desk. I want to go to seven different antique shops and spend a weekend developing an opinion about the state of antique desks. I want to find someone who knows the entire history of Stow Davis desks and won’t fucking shut up about them.
Half the fun of having an opinion is the quest to find one, but the everything problem remains. You don’t have the time to have an opinion about everything, but someone has the time.
My Shaving Cream is Crap
It is. It’s waxy pumpkin-smelling crap and when I ran out, I thought, “Good riddance”. I am now faced with two problems: first, I need new shaving cream, and second, my instinct is to spend the entire goddamned weekend researching shaving cream in a compulsive quest for complete understanding of all there is to know about the shaving cream world.
While I want to have an opinion, I do not have time for this exquisite shaving cream expedition, but someone has already completed this quest and has an opinion I can trust. I just need to find them, so I do:
An amazing thing happens when you ask for help, people respond. In their response, not only do you get their opinion, you also get brief glimpse into how they tick, and whether or not that ticking is aligned with yours. When I asked on Twitter for shaving cream help, not only did I learn more than I ever thought possible about wet shaving, shaving cream, straight razors, and a bevy of other shaving topics, I also found five more people to follow because in 140 simple characters, they told a story that reminded me that the best way to search the Internet is with someone you trust.
The Shop I Want is Full of Stories
The shop I want does not exist because this impossible shop is full of people spread across the planet. There’s Tasha who can explain anything about grammar. Scott can tell you anything about the Smashing Pumpkins and he also makes a Mac’n'Cheese for which I will fly across the United States to reverse engineer his recipe. Boris is in this shop and he’ll talk about scuba diving until I ask him to stop. I’ve collected each of these people and placed them in this impossible shop because, at some point in the past, we discover a common trait or idea that tied us together – we discovered that together we could explain the world to each other.
I don’t need flat furniture nor do I need a desk. I have enough pens and journals. My closet of full of shirts and while I still wonder what a hibblygizmo is, I’m certain I don’t need one. What I need is shop full of people with opinions — because it’s not what I know that I’m worried about, it’s what I don’t know that’s really interesting.
The shop I want is full of people who are dedicated to their opinion. Who are happier understanding a thing rather than wanting it. These people will happily tell the story of happened upon this opinion and I want to hear it because the opinion of someone I trust is just as valuable as my own.