Instant buying is as old as Mount Evans (the park that is)
By Forrest Whitman
I was amused to note that PayPal had billed me for two black cocktail type evening gowns with a plunging neckline. I owed them $114 for each. My buddies kidded me a lot and wanted to see me wear them. I responded that I’ve never thought of myself as the evening gown kind of guy. They looked too small anyway.
Clearly I wasn’t going to go through with this bogus gown sale. Almost the same day I noticed my credit card had been billed for another mysterious charge: $25 via PayPal. I’ve never had a PayPal account and never asked for one, but there were the two charges in black and white. When I called the company they agreed with my point of view, but still suggested I sign up for PayPal. I also got to hear a bit about the rains in India this summer as I chatted with the PayPal folks. I think I’m free from that outfit now and I’ve dropped the credit card they used to bill me. That canceled credit card may cost me my airline miles if I don’t fly in the next year and half. I’m not lamenting those lost miles either. The experience of actually flying on a plane these days is lot like what spending time in the old basement jail in Central City must have been like.
The lady in India and I share a mystery
The nice lady in India had no idea why these mysterious charges happen. She tried to make me feel better by pointing out that half the world has this happen every billing period. That’s what she’s there for. “It is really a mystery,” as she said. These charges and bills and so on are all going on out there in the web cloud. The cloud is located somewhere over the rainbow. If humans can’t understand this system why do we use it? We might as well admit it: it’s all about instant gratification. We all use the credit cloud because we want what we’re purchasing.
I’ve sat in a coffee house and seen people order movies, or games, (but never books so far). They do it right there on their iPad with seemingly little thought. These people are instantly gratified. Better still, If they use one of the apps like Square Wallet they really can forget about payment. All you have to do with that app is say your name to any checkout clerk. A bill will come in the end, but for now it’s painless. In fact, studies show that people who pay for their vacation and then go on the vacation enjoy it more than those who wait to pay until they are home.
Buying Mount Evans On Credit
Colorado history is full of situations where something big was bought on credit, even a whole mountain. Consider Mount Evans. Mount Evans cost a few million bucks as the road was built, the overlooks put in place, interpretive signs put up and so on. No one was particularly thinking of that at the start, though. From one point of view the whole mountain was an impulse purchase set in motion by Governor John Evans. Evans spoke for the citizens when he said the Denver mountain backdrop would one day have to be preserved, probably by purchase.
Another good example is Red Rocks Park. The city couldn’t set up that large park in one season or pay for it in forty. However, popular Denver mayors like Speer and Stapleton saw no problem with going into debt to get the immediate satisfaction of a mountain park. Each such purchase led to long and acrimonious City Council debate. From one point of view, Denver couldn’t afford any of the “City Beautiful” projects. The history of those contentious purchases can be read in Lyle Dorset’s book Queen City. It’s obvious Denver has long been an impulse buyer of mountains. That’s turned out to be a good thing in the long run.
Psychologists Ease the Pain of Paying
Brain researchers tell us a lot about addiction, attraction and so on. Anyone can Google all of those highly detailed brain studies. The part of our brain that feels the pain of paying the bills is lulled to sleep during an instant purchase. Our credit cards, Square Wallet apps, and so on are set up to do this. We buy, but don’t feel the pain of paying till later. In fact, some pleasure centers in our brains light up as we pay now for something we anticipate using in the distant future.
There’s a new book out by Dunn and Morton outlining exactly how our brains work and how we get pleasure from spending, or experience pain in paying. People who sell us things know which part of our brains to light up. That’s why our median national household debt is estimated at north of $60,000 and may well be as high as $70,000. We’ve always bought on credit. Mount Evans is really a good example of that. That’s not going to change.
Learning to Pay Attention
It’s inevitable that we’ll buy on impulse from time to time. Most of the time that turns out to be a good deal. Where would Denver be without the mountain parks? We can learn to pay attention to what we’re buying though. If I hadn’t read my credit card bill I’d have a box at my door. It would say something like: Contents two strapless evening gowns.