Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Freedom from being Sold Shit

I signed up for the ING Miami marathon last week. The on-line application had a bunch of mandatory fields. After name, age, address, shirt size and, of course, credit card number, there were three pages of questions that had to be answered before the application could be submitted. Occupation? Annual household income? Are you a “decision maker” at your company? Purchase an on-line marathon training program? Register to win a Nissan Leaf? Up to three trial magazine subscriptions? Would you like to be contacted by an ING financial professional? Clicking “no, goddammit, I just want to sign up for the friggin race” was not an option. So I answered all the questions (as obnoxiously as possible, of course – employer is Cumstein & Smegma LLP, annual income is fifty billion dollars, no thanks on the magazines) and got on with things.

The constant stream of low-level irritants in the modern world is made up in large part of people trying to sell shit. That’s nothing new. Hucksters came onto the scene probably about ten minutes after man learned how to use a rock as a tool – “Ug. Get Thor-o-matic super stone. Limited time. Less hairy cro-magnon ladies think you sexy.” Because hucksterism is annoying, we learn to ignore it. But, like a virus, more potent strains evolve, each one more ignore-resistant than the last. Visual ads become more prominent, more animated and more ubiquitous. As those become less effective, more audio ads sprout up. Airports are saturated with commercial announcements. Some cities have started selling air time in their subways and buses. Boston may be next on the list; the MBTA has started discussions with a company that creates GPS-triggered audio ads on buses that are tied to the locations of advertisers. Trying to read an on-line article usually means scouring the screen to find that tiny portion of non-advertising space where the text is located.

All of this stems from the fact that we are Consumers, and are somehow not offended by being referred to as such. How did that happen? It’s pejorative to say that our work efforts make us “cogs in the machine.” It wouldn’t be too flattering to reduce our sexual lives to their “procreation vessel” components. But we seem just fine with having all of our interests, goals and desires, all of the personal nuances that make us who we are, reduced to the act of consuming. Buying, destroying, throwing out and buying again.

So we’re Consumers, a colossal amount of energy is expended trying to get us to consume, and that’s annoying. Still, it’s possible to find some tranquility. Reading a book is nice. A book is a clever off-the-grid content delivery device that has absolutely no interface through which advertising can be delivered. Music can be relaxing. If you make a playlist you like and pop in your ear buds, you can circumvent the increasingly ubiquitous audio ad assault. There are even a few spaces left – even in cities – where you can walk around and not see visual stimuli designed to get you to buy shit.

Peace and tranquility don’t necessarily come from cutting yourself off from human contact. Interfacing with people is nice. An effective way to decompress is to just take a break from your role as Consumer. It’s not always easy to mute all communications whose purpose is to sell you shit, but it can be done, and it’s worth the effort. I know ING is going to try to hawk me some more shit when I go run in Miami in January. I’ll try to ignore them and focus on the nice views and breathe in some warm air. And I’ll get some perverse satisfaction knowing that they’re sending unwanted magazines to my fake law firm address.


Michael said...

I have written about one aspect of this, in song form, of course:

Tagged for your convenience. And you don't even have to buy anything!

Anonymous said...

I want to see reverse sales (like reverse psych).
" shitty cheeseburger! With a side of lard, of course."

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