Category Archives: Life

Shopping Locally and Succeeding

Almost three months later, it’s the right time to give an update on my resolution to shop locally and stop relying on Amazon.

To recap, I decided in 2014 that I want my money to stay within my community. I’d like mom-and-pop businesses to be able to survive and thrive. They’re the ones who care most about the places and people around them, and money they earn doesn’t enrich financiers and the 1%. They’re also much more likely to pay their employees fairly and treat them with the respect all people deserve, which is an issue I continue to become more and more passionate about.

Three months later I’m happy to report I’ve been mostly successful. That is, I haven’t ordered any physical goods from Amazon, and I’ve much more often made the decision to patronize local shops. Some examples:

  • Haven’t ordered any books from Amazon, either digital or physical.
  • In fact, I haven’t ordered anything physical from Amazon.
  • Got plumbing supplies at the local hardware store, spending a good bit more than I would have otherwise.
  • Joined the Brooklyn Public Library. While I’ve only visited once because I have a backlog of books to read, I know I’ll be back more often later this year.
  • Ordered flowers by walking around the corner and into a florist! Crazy, I know.
  • Visited the Brooklyn Flea to check out furniture options for our new apartment.

And now for the bad, or maybe bad. I can’t decide, so they’re certainly up for discussion:

  • Ordered a pair of boots from Zappos (and yes I realize Amazon owns them). In my defense, I needed snow boots for this wretched winter and there aren’t any stores near me in Brooklyn who sell them. I probably could have worked harder to find something local – but it was snowing and gross!
  • I still frequently order digital video from Amazon. Digital video wasn’t part of my original resolution, but it was a questionable area. I stand by these purchases. It’s just not a thing to buy physical copies of video anymore, and I personally don’t see the difference between vendors.
  • Bought a sweater from J. Crew’s website. I could have gone to the store, but I didn’t.
  • I haven’t bought any Kindle books, but mostly out of consciously trying to work through my current backlog and spend less on books.

What does the future look like for this resolution? I can’t see myself becoming an Amazon Prime member again and I’m going to continue to endeavor not to order goods online that I can get locally. That said, next week I’m moving to a neighborhood with a lot less local options, which presents an interesting challenge. In Fort Greene, the lack of chain stores means it’s easy to shop local. In my new neighborhood, it will be much harder.

Spend Locally and Abandon Amazon – My New Year’s Resolution

I care a great deal about neighborhoods and local community. As someone who started participating in local politics around the time I turned 18, building strong neighborhoods is one of my deepest core beliefs.

But like many things, over time the actions one takes to support a belief can erode. People’s church attendance slackens, they miss PTA meetings, etc. In my case, over the past few years I stopped participating in the community. In particular, I did more and more of my spending on Amazon.

To make matters worse, I live in a neighborhood that has staunchly and successfully avoided being overrun by national chain stores. It’s a 10 minute walk to any chain store from my house (which is really long in NYC time!), and on the way you’ll pass lots of local alternatives. So why was I ordering mouthwash and basic essentials from Amazon? Why wasn’t I going into the local bookstore just a block from my house? Why was I ordering my groceries from FreshDirect and Amazon?

Over the past few months, I’ve started to be more concerned about this habit. In the back of my mind, I knew it wasn’t the right thing to be doing. You can Google for yourself some of the reasons why Amazon is bad for the economy, but I don’t want to dwell on it. The bottom line is that a company which pays its workers very little and is intent on dominating many realms of commerce might not be good for you and your neighbors. (And Amazon isn’t the only guilty company of course.)

As someone who cares about my neighborhood (and the importance of neighborhoods and local economies), I wasn’t doing enough to support mine. So this year, I’m working to keep more of my money local. Specifically, I’m reducing the amount of spending I do on Amazon. Unless I can’t find something locally, I’m not going to buy anything other than digital videos (and maybe a few Kindle books) from them.

That’s going mean more money for my local bookstore, pharmacy, grocery store, hardware store, and more. Unlike spending on Amazon, money I spend in locally helps the neighborhood by supporting entrepreneurs and allowing them to pay employees, many of whom are often also neighborhood residents.

I’m not trying to be perfect – the point isn’t to never order from Amazon, it’s to put my neighbors first and Amazon last. So far, I’ve been to the hardware store twice more than I otherwise would have been (I’d have ordered plumbing supplies from Amazon for sure), and the local grocer once more than usual. The toughest thing to figure out is books – I really love my Kindle and don’t have room for many books in my little NYC apartment. But I am going to try to move some of my book purchases to paper from local book stores.

I’ll be exploring new ways to spend locally throughout the year, and I’d love to hear from you. How do you support your local economy? What are ways I can increase my participation?

Love in the Age of Technology

Photograpy__Love_contest_by_the_riot_machineI love technology. It drives my career, my social life, my consumer habits, my desire to be an engaged citizen, and my need to create and write. Since technology positively influences so many other parts of my life, it should be a boon for finding a mate, right?

Not many people would call me an introvert, but when I like a guy, I can be shy to the point of actually seeming disinterested. So for a while, online dating was great. The stakes are low, the potential seems high, and embarrassment of rejection is lowered to almost zero, making it a nice self-esteem boost. By most metrics, I was successful with it. I was meeting new guys, going out on plenty of dates, having nice conversations, and over the past few years, dated a handful of guys each for a few months.

For a while, I thought taking the pressure off of dating was a good thing. If you lower the emotional consequences of rejection, you make dating easier. But eventually it started to feel hollow, like just a series of interviews, asking and answering the same questions over and over, like the million first dates Dan Slater writes about in The Atlantic. It got me thinking that perhaps that pressure is important. Sure, there was no risk. But was there any reward?

If I just look at a few more profiles, email with a few more guys, have a few more first dates, love is inevitable, right? If we meet enough potential mates, do we eventually end up in a relationship? Can we game the computers, like Amy suggests? And if we can, should we?

If my friends are any indication, one of the most embarrassing things to happen on OKCupid is to be matched with someone you already know. We already value these guys as friends and coworkers, and we often even know they are single, so why is it embarrassing? But over and over, I hear (and have said!) “Oh yeah, I saw him on OKCupid” in a whispered tone.

That should actually be an opportunity, but we’ve become so reliant on looking for someone we haven’t met that we ignore the guys who are already in our lives. Some services actually block your Facebook friends from results. This constant hunt for someone new has convinced me that dating sites are doing us a disservice, so I decided to take a break from using technology to facilitate dating and am taking it old school.

It’s been challenging. I’ve got to be less shy and had to put myself out there more. I’ve been rejected a few times, and that’s never fun. There’s definitely more pressure and the let-downs can be bigger, but it all feels more real. On the plus side, I haven’t had to endure any dates with guys with whom there’s clearly no chemistry. It feels like I’m off the treadmill, and that’s been worth it.

(Of course, the product guy in me thinks – What would a service be like that might solve this problem? Should technology play a role in matching us with people we already know? But that’s another post.) 

Photo by the-riot-machine.

Making It Count – My Goals for 2012

I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this before, but I don’t do New Year’s Resolutions. That’s pretty much a guarantee that I’ll forget about them before the end of January. But I am a very aggressive goal-setter, so I tend to pick a Big Theme for the year and develop a set of goals surrounding that theme.

The past two years have felt a bit stagnant for a mixture of reasons, only some of which have been in my control. So 2012′s theme is Make It Count, and I spent the last two months of 2011 preparing to hit the ground running. Continue reading

Anonymously Paying Off Kmart Layaway Accounts

People are walking into their local Kmart and anonymously paying off the layaway accounts of people trying to get gifts for Christmas. Many times they are asking about accounts with toys in them to ensure that some kids have gifts under the tree.

I heard this story on NPR and am in love with the generosity of my fellow human beings.

Mystery Elves. At Kmart stores around the country, anonymous donors are walking in and paying off the layaway accounts of complete strangers. It seems to have started in Michigan, but the holiday spirit spread. Kmart says the stealth benefactors usually ask for accounts that include toys.

At one store in Omaha, Nebraska, a dozen accounts were paid off in the last 10 days. At another Kmart in Tennessee, a young father was in line waiting to pay down a bit of his account when a woman stepped up and paid it for him.

This sort of uncoordinated generosity renews my faith in humanity, which is exactly the feeling I like to have around this time of year.

World AIDS Day – Get Tested

I didn’t get a chance to post this earlier, but it’s important to me to talk about World AIDS Day and HIV/AIDS in general. Around the world, including here in the US, millions of people are suffering from this horrible disease, and we are far from finding a cure.

I learned some surprising facts last week at a fundraiser for FACT-LV. Most importantly, I learned that two groups of people are most at risk here in the US – young gay men such as myself, and senior citizens. For the latter, they don’t have safe sex because they’re unconcerned about pregnancy. For the former, we think the crisis is over, that it was something that only affected the last generation of gay men.

It’s not true. Young gay men are getting HIV because they’ve stopped worrying about HIV, and we need a kick in the pants to start again. The first step is getting tested, and not being shy about it. I get tested regularly, and I’m proud to say so. I tested negative in November 2011. Do you know your status?

Hillary’s LGBT Rights Speech Echoes Throughout The World

I have always been a proud supporter of Hillary Clinton, but perhaps never more than today. She has risen above the petty politics in which we’re all mired and brought our attention to ensuring the innate rights we all have as human beings.

I can’t get the video embedding to work, but watch it in full here.

So when any part of humanity is sidelined, the rest of us cannot sit on the sidelines. Every time a barrier to progress has fallen, it has taken a cooperative effort from those on both sides of the barrier. In the fight for women’s rights, the support of men remains crucial. The fight for racial equality has relied on contributions from people of all races. Combating Islamaphobia or anti-Semitism is a task for people of all faiths. And the same is true with this struggle for equality… Continue reading

End Marriage Discrimination

Yes, this is that cute video that all your friends have been posting on Facebook. But, (1) it is indeed cute, and (2) I think the phrase “end marriage discrimination” is a potentially important shift in political language.

I Bet You Think This Tweet Is About You

So, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about social media, non-personal communications, and the rise of passive aggressiveness as a result.

Personally, a combination of shifting societal norms and my career objectives have caused me to make a conscious choice to live my life on fairly public terms. No matter how technology changes our world in the future, I expect that my life will remain under public scrutiny from here on out. That’s not to say that I don’t keep some things private – I’m actually an intensely private person who chooses to open up specific portions of my life to the public eye.  Continue reading

Self-Reliance

If our young men miscarry in their first enterprises, they lose all heart. If the young merchant fails, men say he is ruined. If the finest genius studies at one of our colleges, and is not installed in an office within one year afterwards in the cities or suburbs of Boston or New York, it seems to his friends and to himself that he is right in being disheartened, and in complaining the rest of his life. A sturdy lad from New Hampshire or Vermont, who in turn tries all the professions, who teams it, farms it, peddles, keeps a school, preaches, edits a newspaper, goes to Congress, buys a township, and so forth, in successive years, and always, like a cat, falls on his feet, is worth a hundred of these city dolls. He walks abreast with his days, and feels no shame in not ‘studying a profession,’ for he does not postpone his life, but lives already. He has not one chance, but a hundred chances.

— Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance