The Shopping Virus

Posted on January 14, 2008 by psu

It all started when we had an innocent conversation over lunch where peterb told me his dad was going to buy him a cooking knife for his birthday. Until that point and time, I had thought about cooking knives perhaps three times in the last fifteen years, and each time it was to plot how to make my friend Erik sharpen my knives for me. For these fifteen years, I have used a nice 8 inch chef’s knife for everything in the kitchen, and it has always performed well without complaint. There is arguably nothing in this world I need less than another knife.

But, I had contracted the shopping virus from Pete, so now I am doomed to shop until it either dissipates on its own or I buy a nice Shun Classic Nakiri that I don’t need.

And I’m not the only one he got either. At least one other guy at work saw Pete’s post and the only way he could make himself stop reading the knife forums was to buy two knives. Apparently some of our other readers had this reaction too. The shopping virus propagates easily from dork to dork. The average dork is already inclined to shop for things he doesn’t really want or need, and all it takes to push him over the edge is for someone he trusts to put a shiny picture and some effusive text in front of his face.

This is how I found myself surfing around trying to figure out whether a Nakiri is a single bevel or double bevel knife, and trying to find one with a nice classic style round handle and that almost painfully shiny “Damascus” finish. I mean, just go look at this knife porn and tell me you can resist it.

As in most aspects of modern life, the Internet, makes this worse. The Internet, as we have seen before harnesses and amplifies the power of the dork hivemind into a force of overwhelming power. While they tell you that it is the most powerful information repository that our civilization has ever seen, the truth is that the whole thing is about collecting the shopping virus into various concentrated areas and infecting the innocent passer-by. While they tell you that what they are building are rich online communities for people that have common interests to gather and share knowledge, it’s really all about kibitzing and a shared shopping experience. This is true across the spectrum of dork and non-dork interests. Pick any large scale “community” web site (, the knife forums, Gamers with Jobs) and what you will find there are people all interested in buying the same stuff. Why do you think Microsoft is so hot to push Xbox Live down your throat? So you are impelled to buy the same game as all of your online friends at the same time so you can “meet up” online for the multiplayer. Why do you think Amazon is so hot to constantly build and rebuild their “community” features? It’s all connected.

So I tried to resist but failed. The final straw was when my mom noticed that the Chinese cleaver I hardly ever use, but keep around because I’ve had it since I was a kid, was in fact worn out. Now I could convince myself that I “needed” a replacement. Then I saw one of the Shun Chef’s knives at a store, and it was shiny and beautiful and just the right size. And then my doom was upon me. It’s probably only a matter of time.

But, on the bright side, at least I can show the knife to Pete. He’s been bugging me about trying it if I buy one, ya know, just to see what it’s like.