Ask me a year ago if I would ever work for a software company, and I would have shook my head vigorously. Sell my soul to technology? Never.
But in the antiqued light of the Sheraton ballroom, I can’t help but feel that companies like Wavebid- far from destroying a time-honored tradition- may be keeping it alive.
As more options open to online buyers, the auction business has no choice but to evolve or die. I assumed that evolution would entail the loss of a true auction experience, that is, an event based more on people, heightened emotions, and excitement than on sales. I imagined auctions stripping down to wires and numbers and pictures, ultimately ending in the full transition to online auctions only.
What I found at the MN Dept of Commerce safety deposit box auction today, however, was anything but. The personal treasures had their own glow of course– a Babe Ruth baseball, Civil War documents, Nazi affects and a modernism collection from Jenny de Bloot. Even things lacking a big name seemed to be special for their modesty, their value secured because some stranger put it in a box long ago.
Yet the brightest glow came from the audience. One woman’s smile as she won an extravagant, odd, silver necklace appraised at far more than her winning bid. The auctioneer’s heightened pitch as he schmoozed the crowd. The comforting, soldierly stance of staff watching like hawks for the flip of a bidding number. The large pictures of lots bringing us closer to each item, more invested in its fate.
The lot display tool deserves extra praise. You might expect the most visible technology at a live event to leave a cold industrial glare. Not so. The room was genuinely engaged by their proximity to paper touched by Ulysses S. Grant or Joe DiMaggio. Smiles were palpable, as though the audience wove themselves into human history with their love of memorabilia.
Check-In was swift with Driver’s License Scanning, so buyers were able to shuffle quickly into the ballroom. No paperwork to linger with. Instead of stripping the day of culture, the excellent documentation provided by the cataloging, clerking and accounting system seemed to make everyone at ease knowing that credit card information was PCI compliant, that multiple layers of organization existed “somewhere in the computers”. The clerking was smooth and effective. The auctioneers enjoyed listening to themselves chant, as is only right. They recognized their identity alive again as they performed, happy to finally be at auction day after months of preparation.
I’ve never been much of a computer person. I joined Wavebid because it was a small business, and I enjoy working in the center of action rather than at the fringes, as is typical of most entry-level jobs. It’s fitting that a 4-person company is working to preserve the personal nature of auctions. It’s just ironic that their means is modern technology, the thing most old souls- like me- think to reject.