Dopamine is a brain chemical, produced in most plants and animals (including us), which plays a big role in reward-motivated behaviour. Popular culture references the ‘dopamine hit’ you experience through coffee or chocolate, social media, and shopping. Black Friday is all about the shopping.
The emails started a while ago — aiming to get me excited about all the goodies I could buy on the cheap. Unusually, as I write this now, my last couple of days were spent in a big shopping centre (not overnight mind, I’m not one of those!). The first day, I went with my friend who wanted to buy a specific item (shoes) and we made a day of it mooching. The next day I returned with my not-so-little daughters and got their ears pierced as an early Christmas present, again making a day of it with time spent in the play space and giant ice-creams.
Everywhere the centre shouted at you — Black Friday discounts, 20%, 50% or even more when you spend. This dopamine hit has a lot of build up. As I walked in and around the space it felt, as it has done for such a long time, like a weird, hallucinatory experience. Other-dimensional and totally at odds with the needs of everything outside its air-conditioned shininess.
And yet, I totally remembered the way that, particularly as a young teenager, I revelled in going shopping with friends, like another peg towards adulthood similar to passing the driving test. Allowed out, down the town, without adults, to spend a little money, buy a couple of bits, but mostly chat and people watch. We haven’t grown out of these cultural traits, although our planet has.
As my colleague Jane Shaw writes, Black Friday was born in the US and has travelled across the consumer countries. Easy for big brands, but potentially crushing for small business, we fall for the hype, the constant advertising playing to our fear of missing out (FOMO). For some perhaps, Black Friday allows them to purchase something they have saved for, potentially out of reach at other times given the cost-of-living crisis. However, most of us get sucked in again, confusing the dopamine hit of want over need. I’ve been there, we all have.
Last year, I really noticed a bigger pushback against Black Friday across my (admittedly, algorithmically-aligned) social media. Colleagues on LinkedIn changed their profile pics to a green square and others made comments about brands who took positive action to stifle the over-consumptive definition of the day. Before I left the UK, my climate activist friends and I in Worthing Climate Action Network, held a swap-shop event on Black Friday in the town centre, which was fun and engaging.
This year, Citizen Friday seeks to solidify some of this energy. It wants people to ‘share, repair, and get out in the fresh air’. People when connected have real agency to change their futures — I know, because I’m part of that and it’s a true joy. And that’s a dopamine hit in itself.