My Perfect Mall

Recently, my friend Garrick and I came up with the following thought exercise: If you were to design the perfect shopping mall, what types of stores would it have? The rules are simple. It does not have to be existing brands or even what one would find in the modern American mall — just types of stores. To keep it easy we limited ourselves to ten.

Most malls have become bland wastelands of fast fashions targeted towards the lowest common denominator. Beige behemoths located, usually, “out there somewhere” and easily accessible only by those with cars. Yet, the first earliest shopping malls were designed to be a destination centerpiece for the urban family around which walkable self-sustaining communities would form. That was what Victor Gruen envisioned when inventing them.

We thought the exercise would, perhaps, reveal some things about what we like and are interested in that we had not considered before. We also thought that it would expand the idea of what a shopping mall could be.

Here’s mine.

  1. A men’s clothing store that carries well made, affordable, timeless, basics. Clothes that last long, wear well, and never go out of style.
  2. A fine pen and stationery store, specializing in imported brands/items (Japan, Germany, etc.) with some vintage items too.
  3. A travel store specializing in light packing clothing and gear.
  4. A really, really, good independent book store with an excellent children’s section, a mix of universally revered classics and great new releases, an expansive selection of magazines and literary journals from all over the world, and a knowledgable staff who provide great recommendations.
  5. A really good cooking store that sells seriously good supplies for the home chef.
  6. A store that sells nice bags of all different shapes, sizes, materials, and uses.
  7. A fitness center with a nice indoor running track, good modern exercise equipment, and plenty of yoga and meditation class offerings.
  8. A museum with a nice mix of classic and contemporary art. There is a price attached to every painting — so you could theoretically buy anything assuming you have the money to do so.
  9. A great hat store. From formal to casual and everything in between. Some good vintage stock as well.
  10. A nice gift store with unique, interesting, useful, and fun items for all ages. The kind of place that always has that “just what I’m looking for” gift for family or friends.

There you have it. I suppose I’m not surprised by any of these. Most that know me well probably would not be either. Still, it was fun to imagine and see what sorts of things are important to me. Quality is a big one — a theme that pops up over and over again. Also interesting is what is not in my mall. One may notice there is not an Apple Store or any modern technology store in there. I’m not against those things, obviously. They just should be in someone else’s mall, not mine.

I find this a lot of fun to think about and have left room on the page I listed these in case I want to expand my malls offerings to more than ten.

Right Action

Right Action is the forth precept along The Noble Eightfold Path. The reason The Noble Eightfold Path is, well, a path, is that each precept is meant to lead to and support the next. Just as our next step follows and is predicated on the one before it. So too, before one takes action, one must have, understanding, intention, and speech rightly aligned. Because your action will be supported, flow from and be informed by all of these — rightly aligned or not.

Because I have taken some time to dwell upon and attempt to be mindful of my understanding, it motivated me to not be so quick to react to someone else’s statement or post, to take a step back and attempt to see and read things for what they are, and to identify and confront my own negativity and desires. By doing so, this informed my intentions. In other words, I engage myself in an internal dialog around what would be accomplished. Would my intention be to understand or instruct? Would it be to learn the truth of what another believes or to advance my own? Would my intention be helpful or hurtful? Only when assuring as much as I could to myself that my intention was for truth seeking, understanding, and coming from a place of compassion, my speech will then be grounded in and driven from there. This, then, would lead to a proper action if one needed to be taken.

Right Action can also be applied to the very reason we might use social media in the first place — to participate in and build healthy community. This begins with who we choose to commune with and who we may not want to. There will be those people and entities we choose not to engage for a variety of reasons. Perhaps they promote a mostly negative view of the world. Perhaps they are unwilling to engage in friendly and respectful discourse. Perhaps it is as simple as not having something to say you are interested in. Or, more simply, you simply have too many you are currently following, you are at the limit of what you can meaningfully engage with, and know that adding a single person more would reduce your capacity for the rest. All of this is not only OK, but are considerations that, in a perfect world, others are making about you.

As for me, I know that the limit of those I can effectively follow on Twitter, or any other social media platform, is around 350. And even then, it is with some allowances and caveats. For example, I allow myself to be comfortable with missing things. When I open Twitter, I rarely scroll back very far to "catch up" on what I may have missed. I figure that if it is important it will likely come up again. For instance, if someone mentions it is their birthday, because many that I follow are friends of others I also follow, I will likely see someone wish them a happy birthday. I, then, see it is their birthday and will do the same. Important news or happenings are usually important to many. Therefore, there is no need to go back and see what you "missed" because it will likely be repeated again and, in most cases, far more than you care to even read.

How we organize Twitter is part of this too. I have recently reconfigured my main timeline to be exclusively people I know and/or care about. Everyone and everything (companies, organizations, etc.) else has been unfollowed and put into a list I have named "Interesting". I dip into this list about once a day and only if I have time. The one other list I have I call "High Volume" — a list of people who’s work I wish to follow or am otherwise interested in but post so frequently that they would drown out others in my main stream and it would be difficult to feel I was taking Right Action when it comes to them. I check this list as time allows as well. What this organizational strategy has resulted in is a timeline that is much easier to engage — a place I want to visit because my friends are there.

Right Action is about how and what we post about as well. Does what you have to say add value, help another, add to the conversation, start a useful dialog, float a good idea, worth someone’s time, or otherwise spread kindness? These are all things worth your action. Negativity, argumentative responses, fear, taking pleasure in the misfortune of others, time wasting, or that which is benign or useless should be rethought.

Action, as a concept, is a dynamic word. It implies activity. It is not something that is "set and forget". Quite the opposite, in fact. A path is only a path of one use it to move from one point to the next. Therefore, all of these steps should be actively applied in all of our dealings, including social media.

How we apply Right Action when it comes to any of our social media tools begins at the root of our use of them. This starts with understanding what role they play on our lives and our intentions when using them. Hopefully, some of the ways I’ve applied the path I choose to take will be helpful to ou as well.

Right Intention

The second precept of the Noble Eightfold Path is Right Intention. The path being that, now that you view the world as it is without being clouded by desire, you can mindfully choose how you wish to engage with it.

I really like how the instruction linked to above puts it:

Right Understanding shows us what life really is and what life’s problems are composed of, Right Intent urges us to decide what our heart wants. Right Intent must come from the heart and involves recognizing the equality of all life and compassion for all that life, beginning with yourself.

Because I have not embraced Right Understanding at all times when it comes to my online interactions, and also because my choices have not always been grounded in compassion for myself and others, my ability to approach social media with Right Intention has suffered. In fact, far too often, I have no understanding or intention at all…

It happens to me more times than I care to admit. I take my iPhone out of my pocket, fully intending to do something — look up an address or take down a note to capture a thought — and suddenly I find myself minutes later deep into checking my Twitter stream or Facebook feed. And the alarming thing is that I’m not even entirely sure how I got there. The choice to check social media was a semi-conscious one born of habit. It even takes me a few seconds to remember the purpose I took my iPhone out for. It’s more than a bit embarrassing.

A similar effect is a crucial strategy in retail design. Referred to as the Gruen transfer, it is the moment when people enter a shopping mall and then are surrounded by an intentionally confusing layout and overwhelmed by choice they lose track of their original intentions. Based on my observations and discussions with others, I often wonder if there is something similar in our digital spaces as well. I know it is true for me.

Too often, I open up Twitter and find my self swept up and out to a sea of negative statements, manufactured controversies, “news” that is designed to keep us in a state of fear and worry, and idly watching the misery of others like bloodsport. Too infrequently do I find things there meant to inspire, engage me in right understanding, increase my knowledge, or show me the joy and beauty still existing in this world. It is infrequently a place I go to have meaningful conversation and connections with friends or open the potential to expand that number.

This all stems from not having Right Intention with how I have chosen to build my stream. I focus on Twitter here because, unlike Facebook that largely hands over what I see to an inhuman algorithm (a consideration I shall make separately), what I choose to engage with on Twitter is still largely under my control — my intentions are what drive the stream. These intentions need to become aligned with my understanding and compassion for self.

So, after careful meditation on this, I think the solution is to realign how I use Twitter, who I follow, and how I use the lists feature, with this goal in mind. For instance, I will be unfollowing some people and feeds to move them into a more meaningful and intentional list where I can better focus on what they have to say and share. To say it another way, I want to make sure Twitter is a mall that is built to my liking, where I know where the things I’m looking for are located, and full of stores and people I’d enjoy running into. So that, when the transfer occurs and I find myself in a bit of a daze, it’s a place I don’t mind getting lost in for a little while.

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