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Hard to put the pieces together

Jeff Fox
The Examiner

I think the algorithm got this one wrong.

Things have changed. I never thought I would let unseen hands at Hy-Vee select bananas and pork chops for me, and I never expected Amazon to deliver my socks. But the Earth spins along on its axis, and you adapt or get really unhappy. You can grumble or rage, you can fret over inconvenience and loss, or you can embrace new opportunities as they present themselves. I find that grocery store roulette is manageable and mildly entertaining.

Jeff Fox

But this shift in shopping patterns – thank you, pandemic – has altered the great river of data that a household produces. I watched that new Tom Hanks movie the other night. It’s a western. What will my Prime account make of that? Maybe I’ll get invited to a dude ranch. Or a Civil War re-enactors retreat. Or Amazon might just hitch a horse to the front porch, ring the bell and run fast.

Remember all that hidden-hand-of-the-market stuff we learned in Econ 101? It’s more like the Great Unseen Marketing Algorithm, an early ancestor of whom was the Great Gazoo on the “The Flintstones” – all-powerful, judgmental and more sarcastic than wise.

And sometimes the Great Unseen does the inexplicable.

Here we are, weeks after Christmas, and the mail brings a catalogue. Not for trout flies, marigold seeds, camping gear or foodie gadgets beyond my understanding.

It’s for Legos.

I was a bit old for Legos when they burst upon the scene, so I was never that kid. I’ve been a Legos parent and have known one or two hard-core Legos enthusiasts. I approve of all of this. They’re cool and creative. But I have never been a Legos person.

The marketing machine suggests I need to step it up. Across 56 glorious pages, it asks how I can live without a kit to make triceratops, T-Rex and pteranodon skeletons – 910 pieces, $59.99.

And so much more. Marvel and Harry Potter? Yes. “Star Wars” stuff? You name it, and that means Baby Yoda too. The “Ghostbusters” car? Why not.

Or maybe I need Ice Cream Besties Bracelets, (34 pieces, $5.99); a movie theater (451 pieces, $49.99); or something called a Friendship Bus with a kitchen, a roof-mounted telescope and a big yellow slide in the back (778 pieces, $69.99). Or, dialing it down a bit, perhaps a bookshop set in a modest cityscape (2,504 pieces, $179.99 and listed as “hard to find.”)

And let’s not forget the Roman Colosseum – 9,036 pieces, $549.99 and for ages 18 and up.

I notice it says it’s the January 2021 catalogue, as if to promise or threaten more to come, though I am a newby. I’m not sure I can go from zero to Roman Colosseum as quickly as they would like. 

Meanwhile, I’m sure some bright, creative 10-year-old is puzzled about why she got my fly-fishing catalogue.

Jeff Fox is The Examiner’s editor. Reach him at jeff.fox@examiner.net or @FoxEJC on Twitter.