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Jewish World Review Nov. 29, 2001 / 14 Kislev, 5762

Mark Lane

Mark Lane
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Consumer Reports

An 8/5 kind of guy wanders the aisles of a 24/7 world -- ONCE again I found myself behind a shopping cart at an hour of night when, on a school night, any person with sensible work habits would be in bed.

With the general quickening pace of the holidays, this is going to happen more often.

I look around me and do a quick census. This is not exactly a crowd, but it's still more people than one would expect. Some are bleary-eyed, some have the quick stride of a person who has managed to reverse his sleep cycle and trade night for day. A few are people who in the various stages of having A Big Night.

When buying groceries after 11, most anything you buy can seem silly. You look at other people's carts and think things like, "He's come to a grocery store at an hour before midnight to buy Slim Jims?" "She drove to a grocery store an hour before midnight to buy mascara and Instant Breakfast?" "Why would anyone need an adjustable wrench and Twinkies at an hour before midnight?"

Reasonable purchases all, but add the time element and everything changes.

Still I am undeterred. Because November and December typically find me doing what people who write management books call "just-in-time inventory." I like that concept. This is not lack of planning or putting things off. I'm minimizing storage requirements and operating with an efficient, lean inventory by refusing to get anything more than 24 hours before I need it.

That's the theory, anyway. In reality, I'm just running out of time. And I feel bad that in doing so, I'm encouraging the overall 24/7 mind-set to spread across our culture.

The phrase 24/7 is, of course, a contraction for "24 hours a day, seven days a week." But if you have a 24/7 manner of living, it takes an awfully long time to say the whole phrase. Or you might be too tired to make the effort.

It came into popularity only in the past few years, although it seems to have been coined sometime in the mid-1980s. Nobody really needed say it like that before then.

Worst of all are 24/7 holidays. I realized had gone too far as I pushed a cart under the squintingly bright fluorescent lights of a toy store at 8 p.m. Christmas Eve. It was not a pleasant place to be and the people around me were crankily engaging in extreme desperation shopping. This is never pretty.

I can remember when stores closed for Thanksgiving. Now, there is often supermarket crushes in the pre-noon hours of Thanksgiving. I bought a baster at 11 a.m. one Thanksgiving and felt very pleased to have accomplished such a chancy mission.

But now that stores never close, they tempt people into a lifestyle of extreme procrastination 11 p.m. grocery runs, and just-in-time holidays.

This doesn't bother me personally. I have always kept odd hours. But as I said, I still feel a little guilty. By catering to my irregular lifestyle and consumer brinkmanship, retailers are forcing the same lifestyle on their workers. People should have days off. People should be able to enjoy holidays, even Sundays. People should sleep at night. But no. There are just enough us, people who buy jugs of milk and boxes of cereal at 11 at night, to force American workers to stay on their job 24/7.

It's all my fault. I'm sorry.

But then, what time am I typing these words? Oh, about 10 p.m.

It's the holidays, and through the magic of computers, I, too, can work 24/7. Even while out of town. It's mixed blessing. But I need to stop and go out to buy printer paper.

It's not at all too late for that.

Comment on JWR contributor Mark Lane's column by clicking here.

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© 2001, M. R. Lane