By Amanda Riggle
Growing up in a trailer park as part of the poorest on the proletariat spectrum, I didn’t have a computer of my own until I went away to college at the age of 17; I didn’t have a cell phone until I was 22 years old (not because the technology wasn’t available – but because I couldn’t afford it); and I got my first car, which barely ran, at the age of 24. Now, at the age of 34, I see that technology for the majority of us is still inaccessibly expensive, despite being considered more of a necessity today than it was while I was growing up. In a society that expects us to come readily equipped with computers, cell phones, tablets, digital assistants and cars, the middle and lower classes are struggling to keep up. Black Friday is an unfortunate way that many people struggling to make ends meet can fulfill these societal expectations to stay competitive in the workplace and to be able to pay the rent and have food while also having access to technology.
Who is Black Friday really for? It’s for the freelancer whose computer has broken down; the laborer whose child is starting high school and needs to be able to type on a computer at home; the parent who just wants their child to have a nice Christmas for once; and for those of us who struggle to keep food on the table and can’t afford to replace our digital goods at market-price once their planned obsolescence kicks in. While ads and the media portray Black Friday as an unofficial holiday that brings out the worst in us – like the need for a bigger, more colorful, 3D television or parents fighting each other over the latest Christmas toy craze – my personal experience is that greed, envy, consumer lust, and violence is a rarity on Black Friday; rather, buying a digital necessity during a sale keeps us able to pay the rent, have food, stay out of more debt, and keep us competitive in the workplace so we don’t lose our ability to provide for ourselves.
At the age of 27, I waited in line outside of a Best Buy to try and buy a new laptop for school, as mine had broken. My ex-boyfriend and I had just broken up and I was trying to fiscally survive on my own. I had no family support. I worked so I couldn’t be at school all the time writing papers – especially since we didn’t have a 24 hour computer lab at my community college. The online deals weren’t cheap enough – I had to go stand in line the day after Thanksgiving in order to afford a computer to continue on with school. My only previous experience with Black Friday shopping was online on occasion, but I mostly avoided the online aspects of the corporate holiday as well. I was aware of the news stories and the media hype surrounding Black Friday sales and I honestly didn’t know what to expect while waiting in line. Best Buy had three computers I could afford – if I didn’t get my first choice, I was hoping my second or third choice would be available. Best Buy was also offering huge deals on large screen T.V.s, an X-Box and Playstation bundle, and a ton of smaller “door buster” deals for the people first through the door at midnight.
What I found – well, it was camaraderie and warmth, despite the cold dark night outside of the Best Buy. One of my classmates joined in and we brought a blanket, some warm jackets, some books, a flashlight, and a travel scrabble game. He was younger than I was – about the age of 21. Of the people waiting in line, most were somewhere between our age ranges – early to late 20’s, and in need of one of the cheap electronic devices being offered by the store. While there were plenty of people there for T.V.’s and video game bundles, the first thing to go were the laptops, school supplies, and toys for children. When people sat, and then stood, in these lines for hours, it wasn’t for greed but to get something they needed (and yes, entertainment is something we all need – I prefer books to video games, but being poor doesn’t mean one doesn’t deserve some sort of entertainment to blow off steam or relax after a hard day’s work) or for someone else in their life. The people around us didn’t bring much to do – so we got into teams and played scrabble. When the store employees came out at 11:30 p.m. with tickets for the promised items and went through the line in order and let people know what was still left, everyone was thankful for how organized the employees were and didn’t fight, nor threaten, nor go after someone else if the last item was taken. I got my third choice in laptop but it worked for a good four years before I had to seek out a replacement. Once we entered the store, the employees had it set up to where we’d take our tickets to the correct area, obtain our item, pay, and leave. There were lines set up for people who wished to shop for other, non-limited items as well.
After all was said and done, my friend and I were home by 1:30 a.m. and got some rest. Our Black Friday experience as shoppers wasn’t bad – and, as a whole, those of us shopping that day at that store did our best to treat the employees well. So, ignore the media hype and don’t blame shoppers nor employees this Black Friday; instead, look to the corporations and their inflated prices, their subpar products, and the fact that they still make a profit off of Black Friday sales while making their employees work overnight and hardworking people without spare cash line up, in the cold, outside of a big-box store, in order to survive in this technology-driven world.