March 3rd, 2009

Cute overload

Putting a price on peace of mind

The other week I was in Norfolk for tinyjo's birthday, and I found myself wandering around Norwich on my own while she dragged her poor mother along on her perennial hunt for the Perfect Handbag. I, conversely and typically, had no shopping agenda at all, and ended up buying nothing but a power adaptor for the PC, a couple of bargain books, and a 160GB black iPod Classic. Well, I say I had no agenda, but this last wasn't exactly an impulse purchase. I'd been vaguely intending to get one for ages, as my current one gets closer and closer to full and its battery life gets closer and closer to zero (and, by comparison to the latest models, it looks more and more like a Soviet fridge). I didn't hold out much hope of finding one in a bricks 'n' mortar store that was cheaper than buying on-line, but I was wrong. Not only could I have got one from HMV which - with my (undeserved but infallible) student discount - would be just cheaper than Amazon, but I found an even cheaper one in Cash Converters. This presented me with a moral dilemma: was it worth a £30 saving to shop here? I view Cash Converters as the evil twin of the charity shop. A charity shop is staffed by volunteers, accepts goods freely given by the philanthropic, sells them at a bargain price with a little free gift of karma, then spends the proceeds on good works. It is hard to conceive of a more virtuous system. Pawn shops, by contrast, buy goods at less than their value from the desperate and/or criminal, then mark them up and sell them on to people who either don't consider or don't care that they are benefiting from the misery of others. On the other hand, thirty quid is thirty quid. In the end, I succumbed to the dark side, reasoning that I was effectively spending some of my accumulated charity shop karma as part of the transaction. After all, I don't get round to using it up otherwise, and you can't take it all with you...

On later investigation, the iPod in question used to belong to Sam S, and came complete with 20 GB of his or her music. As any compulsive browser of the shelves of others knows, it's an oddly intimate thing to look through another's music collection. Sam had pretty good taste: Radiohead (including some B-sides), the Beatles's White Album, The Who, some cock-rock (AC/DC), some metal (Dragon Force), some indie (Bloc Party). I could even (I fancy) detect signs of a conscience: a number of tracks were duplicated, once with the sloppy tagging typical of warezed music, then again as part of an album. I don't think it's too much of a stretch to infer from this that Sam took an admirably ethical stance towards music piracy: downloading sample tracks, then buying the album if they appealed. As I speculated I found myself growing quite affectionate towards this poor person, which inevitably led me to wonder how the iPod had travelled from their hands to mine. I suppose the best case scenario is that Sam upgraded to an iPod Touch; or at least that it was pick-pocketed unnoticed and sold to the shop, while Sam claimed a new one on insurance. The alternatives are much more depressing: Sam mugged or burgled, Sam reduced to penury, Sam losing interest in music... I've renamed the device and replaced the music, but I still don't feel that it's entirely mine. I may be too sensitive to buy things from pawn shops.
  • Current Music
    Sounds of 'Stargate' drifting up from downstairs, as ever.
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