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Avoid the online shopping black hole and enjoy some IRL time this holiday season

The holidays are supposed to be a time to reunite with family, friends and loved ones. But in November, the fuzzy feelings are often eclipsed by major shopping events like Black Friday and Cyber Monday.

Holiday shopping, whether on or offline, is so ingrained in our culture that it seems inevitable to participate. But as more people choose to shop online during the holidays, our attention is often buried in our devices, rather than in human conversations and experiences.

As more people choose to shop online during the holidays, our attention is often buried in our devices, rather than in human conversations and experiences.

According to the National Retail Federation, in 2016 more than 108 million people shopped online over Thanksgiving weekend—shoppers spent $1.9 billion online on Thanksgiving Day and another $3.3 billion on Black Friday. That’s a lot of people spending time shopping online instead of reconnecting

Quality time can be shopping time

While there’s no doubt that shopping IRL is its own kind of workout, it’s, more importantly, a time for me to Sure, it’s a bonus to go home with a new addition to my closet, but shopping to me isn’t the act as much as it is about who I’m with.

Growing up, I vividly remember the car rides to and from the mall—it was a space for my mom, my sister, and I to talk about everything happening at school and with our friends, to what we’re looking forward to, or things that might be bothering us. My parents loved picking out things for me and my sister to wear—getting so excited by the mini-fashion show happening outside of the dressing rooms.

Despite this, whenever Black Friday came around, my parents actively avoided participating for good reason. After all, the mall turns into a battlefield the minute the doors unlock. When my sister finally got her driver’s license in high school, I was thrilled we could finally make the trek together. That year we went straight to bed after Thanksgiving dinner so we could recharge and prepare for the fight for the best fashion finds.

That was a different time though, when smartphones weren’t that smart yet, and the online retail experience was still taking shape.

The online shopping vortex

We’re constantly bombarded with promotions and “exclusive” savings that we supposedly don’t want to miss out on. We can act on this urgency at the click of a button.

And why wouldn’t we, when we have services like Amazon Prime delivering packages to our door before we even remember that we’ve ordered them? Instacart and PostMates mean we don’t ever need to leave the house to forage for food. With developments in ecommerce from live chat, chatbots, and AI assistants, to recommendation algorithms and even face mapping, companies can deliver great customer service before we even need it and recommend items before we know we want them.

Shopping online can also feel like dipping your toe in a black hole, only to get sucked into the vortex. 25 pages of stuff? No problem, show me everything! All I have to do is scroll and click away. With so many options and sites pulling you in different directions, it’s easy to get overwhelmed and distracted. I often find myself derailing from my shopping plan and desiring things I wasn’t looking for. This can lead to a very dark road of impulse shopping or making purchases out of boredom. Our devices create this bubble around us, gluing our eyes to screens, encouraging mindless interaction with no end, and making us forget to come up for air.

Our devices create this bubble around us, gluing our eyes to screens, encouraging mindless interaction with no end, and making us forget to come up for air.

Renewing traditions

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become like my parents—refusing to deal with the traffic and crowds when it comes to shopping. After a long week of work, I would rather lie in bed and scroll, scroll away. But looking back, a lot of my memories with family and friends are not ones made online, but IRL.

Recently my sister and I started an unspoken ritual of going out to shop once a month and it’s brought me back to a pastime that I forgot I treasured. Playing dress up and getting style tips in person is more fun than We also keep each other on track, letting each other know what we’re looking for so we don’t get distracted. Even if we go home empty-handed, I always appreciate the conversations that bubble up on the bus ride to the mall, over coffee as we take a breather, to the meal that celebrates the day is done.

Finding the balance

We don’t necessarily have to go to the extremes and do a digital detox or deprive ourselves from shopping, but we should be mindful of drawing some boundaries.

This upcoming Thanksgiving, my family scheduled dinner at home the night of Thanksgiving, and extended the family time to over the weekend—restaurant reservations were made a month in advance. No excuses are allowed. Sometimes it’s as easy as just blocking time on the calendar.

You can also make plans that reflect things the interests you want to share. Since I’m the one in the family who enjoys art, I’ve scoped out some exhibitions and galleries for us to visit.

At the same time, it’s not like every moment of the day needs to be teased out. Last Thanksgiving, my friends and I decided to explore a neighborhood in Chicago that we’ve never been to. We ended up discovering amazing thrift stores and scoring cool vintage finds. As we were about to call it a night, we passed by a movie theater and decided to walk in and watch Moana. Spontaneity is encouraged and can make great memories.

Thanksgiving weekend goes by quickly, and the time we get to spend with loved ones each year is time to be cherished. So pull your head out of your phone and enjoy the people (and the stores) around you.

Florence Fu currently studies Journalism and Art History at Northwestern University and is an intern at Zendesk. When she's not absorbed by brand design and content strategy, she enjoys exploring museums, reading art and design criticism, and listening to R&B/Soul music. She can go on and on about typography and aspires to design her own typeface someday.