One of my many part-time jobs involves doing market research in retail stores. I lurk in aisles observing shopper behavior and then ask people questions about things they looked at on the shelves. I love this job (the pay is great, there's no one breathing down my neck, and I like hearing what people say about their shopping habits). I was working on a project in a grocery store today, and it was pretty slow, which gave me time to think. And I stopped for a minute and loooked around at all the advertising -- the packaging, the stickers, the flyers, the end caps -- there are so many ads designed to lure us to buy, buy, buy (and the work that I do as a market researcher is geared towards helping the advertisers be more effective with their work). So many people were just wandering and looking lost -- looking for guidance from the packaging and displays.
I imagined how different shopping must have been back in "the old days" when you just bought flour or oil or string and butcher paper, rather than being faced with shelf after shelf of options for the things you actually need, not to mention stuff no one needs but we wind up buying because the marketers are so good at what they do.
I love to read novels set in the late 19th and early 20th century, and shopping is described so differently in that era. Shoppers would walk into the general store with a little list and the grocer would measure out the provisions needed and bundle them up, probably sending a shop boy to carry them home.If the shopper needed guidance, she (or he) would ask the grocer, who was a trusted source of advice. "Will castor oil help little Timmy's colic?" was more apt to be a question (at least in my novels), unlike today's shopper's silent inner questioning of "should I get fat free, reduced fat, air spun, or splenda ice cream?"
A lot of things in our modern lives are fantastic achievements, especially in domestic time saving devices, but the idea of a less commercial life that is less saturated by advertisements is very appealing.