How Online Shopping Is Like Pixar’s "WALL-E"

Virtual shopping mall could be next big thing in online retail. But is that a good thing?


When you think about the great cinematic depictions of a dystopian, apocalyptic future you think of Planet of the Apes, The Road Warrior, Dark City, The Matrix, and now... WALL-E. Yeah, that one kind of sticks out, but that's what so many moviegoers saw this summer in Pixar's cute-little-robot movie: a deeply cynical view of human nature. In the future according to W ALL -E, everyone lets technology exploit their laziest appetites and turn them into Jabba the Hutts. Why get up off your seat when your computer can do it for you?

Well, the alarmist in me wants to say this news brings us a step closer to that view of the future:

Like to shop, but can't get to the stores until after hours? Love the mall, but can't stand the traffic?

Louisville Web entrepreneur Mark Stein says he has a solution: Let your digital persona do the walking in a 3-D virtual mall....

The Web site depicts a typical mall where shoppers can adopt an animated figure called a persona to represent them in the digital world. Participants can then see and be seen by other shoppers, providing a 3-D social networking environment that is meant to appeal to the "Facebook crowd" of young or tech-savvy computer users.

Not only is online retail cheaper and more convenient—now it actually can simulate the experience of going to a store! Now there's REALLY no reason to ever go outside!

OK, but seriously, I actually think this is a great thing—not the part about never going outside but the entrepreneurial technology that gives us more choices as consumers. Sorry, but W ALL -E's prediction of the future is off-base. Yes, obesity may be going up as technology gets better, but the far more important standard of well-being—life expectancy—is also up. Technology that makes life more convenient doesn't turn us into slugs. It gives us more time to devote to things we really enjoy. Sitting in traffic to get to the mall is not one of those things.

So Web entrepreneurs should take a cue from and develop ways to make online shopping even more convenient and accessible.