Matt Niswonger

Shopping local to avoid the predatory dot coms

With the announcement that much-loved outdoor adventure store A16 is going out of business after the 2019 holiday shopping season, California will lose another important outdoor retailer. Citing pressure from online competition and a steady decline in foot traffic, A16 could not find a way to make it work in the current business climate. An important part of the outdoor community in southern California, A16 has been selling gear to hikers, backpackers, and other outdoor enthusiasts since 1963.

Heading into 2020, clearly the world is changing fast. When technology guru Steve Jobs predicted only twenty years ago that a “portable internet screen you carry in your pocket” would radically alter our lives, most of us had no idea what he was talking about.

Now, as brick-and-mortar retail stores rapidly disappear across California and America, the new reality has come into focus. While big box companies like REI are doing just fine, the vast majority of outdoor specialty stores have disappeared along with the familiar experience of shopping in locally owned businesses.

Besides the loss of locally owned businesses, the overall digital trend worries me. In just twenty years our friendships are online, our shopping is online, our entertainment is online, and — increasingly — our money is landing into the hands of a few technology companies. These companies exert a level of monopolistic domination that we haven’t seen since the golden age of Standard Oil.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out where this is going. Because technology companies are so good at making the internet experience habitual, once you are using their websites you really don’t want to stop. Tech gurus call this “stickiness,” but I think “addiction” is a more accurate word. Given how rapidly our lives have changed in only two decades, I’m reminded of one of my favorite movies: The Matrix.

When the Keanu Reeves movie came out in the late 1990s, the story seemed like an entertaining fantasy. Now it feels eerily predictive. Digital reality is quickly becoming our main reality. Once that happens physical connection with other people becomes rare, just like in The Matrix. While your digital self is cruising around the internet, selling stocks or arguing politics on Facebook, your physical self might as well be warehoused in a closet somewhere, hooked up to feeding tubes.

If this sounds depressing to you let’s stop this trend. I’m certain that most of us still prefer real outside adventures with other people over digital adventures on a laptop or phone. We still enjoy reading articles in a printed magazine over reading words on a small screen. That’s why big tech is working overtime to change our habits. Out there in the organic world you are not a commodity. On a screen, your habits can be monetized. If you currently spend three hours per day on a screen, big tech wants four. If you spend twelve hours per day on a screen, big tech wants thirteen.

As you can tell by the tone of this article, I’m disgusted with where things are headed, and honestly I’m slightly disgusted with myself. According to an app I have installed on my phone, I’m currently averaging about two hours per day on social media, and most of that time is spent on Facebook.

For the past three years I have been managing our ASJ Facebook page. At first it was fun to post pictures and share articles, but lately I appreciate our printed magazine  so much more. Creating a printed magazine is a much slower process, and it feels more meaningful, intentional, and permanent than counting likes, comments, and shares. At first I thought I was making real friends on Facebook, but over time I have realized that digital friendships are only a fleeting reflection of the real thing, just like almost everything else in the digital realm.

So, let’s not be like mindless lemmings running off a cliff. Let’s do what we can to limit big tech this holiday season. After all, big tech creates a few millionaires, but too many working families are struggling to put food on the table. Now the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention is warning us that kids age 10–14 are having a mental health crisis and it’s probably linked to social media.

I’m interested in your thoughts. This holiday season, how can we use the internet as a tool for good instead of running straight into the arms of The Matrix? What changes need to be made so we don’t waste our lives mindlessly scrolling through our Facebook feeds? My email is matt@adventuresportsjournal.com. As always, thanks for reading ASJ.

—Matt Niswonger

ASJ co-founders Cathy and Matt having a shared adventure in the great outdoors.