I attended the Auction of Tecomet Wednesday this week in Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin. It was just the fourth auction I’ve gone to since I started working at Graff-Pinkert almost two years ago. Auctions generally turn out to be a pretty interesting experience for one reason or another. They’re usually pretty grueling, standing on a cement floor all day, subsisting on a few granola bars or the swill they serve in the classic auction “roach coach.” This sale’s auctioneer had been kind enough to cater with Dunkin Donuts in the morning and order pizza for lunch, some crust of which sat on a precision jeweler-type lathe as it was bid upon.
I didn’t plan to buy anything when I went to the sale, although there were a few pretty pieces on the block — a bunch of Citizens from the late 90s to early 2,000s and two Tornos Deco 2000/20 machines. I attended the auction mainly as a reconnaissance mission to watch prices of the CNCs. I also came to network, as it was a good opportunity to mingle with competitors and prospective customers. I wanted to learn from them, and I also just wanted to be seen there.
I roamed the auction for a while with a former auctioneer who was bidding on a few small items that he planned to sell on eBay if he won them. He told me that 10 years ago, before today’s ubiquitous online auction bidding, a sale like Tecomet’s would have attracted 500 live people to the auction site — I estimate Wednesday’s auction drew around 50. He said that auctions used to be grand events, with intense bidding fueled by energy and enthusiasm that can only be created by people bidding in person.
After enduring five boring hours of mostly small-dollar items, the interesting stuff finally got going. The two Deco 2000s were the most expensive items at the sale, and one man onsite bought them both for $105,000 each. I’m pretty sure I remember one other person on the floor who bid $80,000, but the rest of the opposing bids emanated from somewhere in cyberspace. I have to wonder, if Internet bidding had not been available and the sale had 500 people like in the bad ol’ days, would the price of the machines have gone higher?
Today, we consumers live in what I would call an “Auction Age.” It started in the late 90s, when eBay brought auctions to the fingertips of the masses with a user-friendly, un-intimidating platform that was unprecedented in commerce. In the last decade, eBay and Amazon have conditioned consumers to believe that paying retail is for suckers. What’s more, leaving the house to buy stuff is stupid as well.
Online auction bidding has enabled auctioneers to sell capital equipment to people who sit in their offices 2,000 miles from the sale, who can get work done rather than standing all day waiting for other people to bid 40 dollars on shelving. But this convenience comes at a cost, especially for an auction mingler like myself. The atmosphere and energy that comes from community on the auction floor has been eroded. Today, the masses have replaced that venue of community by using virtual connections through email, Facebook, Twitter, Skype and eBay. Every day I communicate with hundreds of people who I never would have had regular contact with 20 years ago. The communication available using the Web is mind boggling, but how powerful are those virtual connections? Even talking on the phone has been widely supplanted by texting, chatting, and emailing. What benefits have these convenient connection mediums robbed me of as they remove my desire for genuine physical contact with other people?
Question: Has Facebook improved your life?